The Encyclopedia Brown series Critical Essays

Donald J. Sobol


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Although some teachers, parents, and librarians worry that reading the many Encyclopedia Brown installments may keep children from reading more difficult work of greater literary value, young readers’ interest in the series is quite reasonable, at least in part because the Encyclopedia Brown books’ purpose, structure, and plots neatly fit the emotional and cognitive development of the average ten-year-old. Aware of and interested in personal relationships as well as the system of rules that govern them, ten-year-olds are fascinated by conflict resolution. Every Encyclopedia Brown case revolves around some pattern of legal or moral noncompliance, which either results in personal conflict or stems from it.

In “The Case of the Hidden Will,” in Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles (1975), a dead Mr. King tricks and scolds his sons from the grave, hiding his final will in a place that they can only find by solving a riddle. He does this because three of them have been lazy and one has been disloyal. Sobol makes clear that this unhappy circumstance is a result of the grown sons’ insufficient family feelings, which can only be resolved by punishing and excluding the son who embezzles from his father and challenging the sons who care so little for the family business, and their father, that they malinger. Although this exact scenario is unlikely to take place in the readers’ personal lives, it does hint at more familiar family...

(The entire section is 585 words.)