The god of “Encyclopedia Brown” is dead

The god of "Encyclopedia Brown" is dead
He’s a kid you want on your 
mystery-solving team.

Donald J. Sobol, who wrote the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries for kids, passed away in July of 2012. In his books, a genius fifth grader solves various crimes and mysteries. Mr. Sobol wrote a total of 28 books in the series (the first in 1963); millions have been published.

Here’s a sample story from Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog (1998):

The Case of the Shower Singers

On the outside, Idaville looked like an ordinary seaside town. It had playgrounds, banks, and beautiful white beaches. It had churches, a synagogue, and two delicatessens.

On the inside, however, Idaville was unlike any other town. No one, grown-up or child, got away with breaking the law!

From coast to coast, police officers wondered. How did Idaville do it? What was the secret?

The Idaville police station stood on Harding Street. But the real headquarters for the war on crime was a red brick house at 13 Rover Avenue.

Here lived Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their only child, ten-year-old Encyclopedia, America’s crime-buster in sneakers.

Mr. Brown was chief of police. He was brave and honest, and he was smart. Whenever he came up against a case he could not solve, he knew what to do.

He put on his hat and went home.

Encyclopedia solved the case at the dinner table. Usually he needed to ask but one question.

Mr. Brown would have liked to tell the world about his son. But who would take him seriously?

Who would believe that a fifth-grader might be the best detective on earth?

So Chief Brown kept Encyclopedia’s crime-busting a family secret.

Encyclopedia never let slip a word about the help he gave his father. It would have sounded like boasting.

But there was nothing he could do about his nickname.

Only his parents and teachers called him by his given name, Leroy. Everyone else called him Encyclopedia.

An encyclopedia is a book or set of books filled with facts from A to Z. Encyclopedia had read more books than anyone, and he never forgot a thing. His pals said that when he thought hard, you could hear pages turning.

After saying grace Tuesday evening, Chief Brown sat silently at the dinner table, fussing with his vegetable soup.

Encyclopedia and his mother knew the signs. A case had Chief Brown puzzled. They waited for him to speak.

At last Chief Brown put down his spoon.

"You remember the state shower singing finals last week in the old Ritz movie theater?" he asked.

Encyclopedia and his mother had been there. The six finalists had sung in a bathroom built on the stage. A rubber ducky had hung from the shower curtain.

"In the shower you let your guard down and just belt it out," Mrs. Brown said. "I liked Oscar March, the fireman, best."

"The winner will compete for the national title in a sing-off against the other state winners," Chief Brown said. "The national champion gets a big trophy from a soap company."

"And perhaps a call from a talent scout," Mrs. Brown added. "What is the problem, dear?"

"The state winner is supposed to be announced tomorrow at the Founder’s Day celebration," Chief Brown said. "But we don’t know who won."

He explained. The judging committee for the contest had voted by secret ballot. The chairwoman, Mrs. Galan, had counted the votes.

"Only Mrs. Galan knew the winner," said Chief Brown.

"Why all the hush-hush?" Mrs. Brown asked.

"Last year, one of the judges leaked the winner to the newspapers," Chief Brown said. "The story ran a day early. It took all the steam out of the awards program."

"If Mrs. Galan knows the winner, why worry?" Mrs. Brown asked.

"Because," Chief Brown replied, "she flew to Los Angeles three days ago. She expected to return tonight. But an earthquake hit there this morning. The airport is closed. The telephone lines are down. She can’t be reached."

Encyclopedia listened in silence. He knew his mother and father were going over the case for his sake. They wanted him to have all the facts.

"Mrs. Galan did leave a clue," Chief Brown said. "She gave the committee’s secretary, Drew Smith, a sealed envelope with a code inside. It names the winner. Mrs. Galan said that if she wasn’t back by three o’clock today and she couldn’t get to a phone, Mr. Smith was to open the envelope and find someone to break the code."

"I don’t understand how you came into the case," said Mrs. Brown.

"Drew Smith thinks I’m the one who has broken codes in the past," Chief Brown said, smiling at Encyclopedia. "He trusts me not to tell the winner’s name to anyone but him."

"I hope Drew Smith gave you a copy of the code," Mrs. Brown said. "Leroy hasn’t failed you yet."

Chief Brown took a sheet of paper from his breast pocket. He handed it to Mrs. Brown.

She read: "aria alter liver scar ale tan."

"All are common words except "aria,’ which means a tune or a solo performance," said Mrs. Brown, who had taught high-school English and other subjects.

She passed the sheet to Encyclopedia.

Chief Brown said, "If it’s of any help, the names of the singers are Dale Manning, Walter Blake, Stan Z. Zamora, Oscar March, Maria Woods, and Oliver Grossman."

"Six singers," said Mrs. Brown. "What has–"

She stopped. Encyclopedia had closed his eyes. He always closed his eyes when he did his hardest thinking.

He thought really hard for a full minute. Then he opened his eyes.

He asked his one question.

"Does the chairwoman of the judging committee, Mrs. Galan, have a special interest in names, Dad?"

Chief Brown was not surprised by the question. Encyclopedia’s one mystery-busting question usually was itself a mystery.

Chief Brown answered, "Mrs. Galan is writing a book called Naming Your Baby. It will have thousands of names for boys and girls."

"I might have guessed," Encyclopedia said.

"Leroy!" exclaimed Mrs. Brown. "Who won?"

"Yes, who?" Chief Brown asked.

"The winner," Encyclopedia said, "is–"

You’ll have to puzzle this one out for yourself.

– Donald J. Sobol, Creator of Encyclopedia Brown, Dies at 87, The New York Times>>
– Teachers at Random, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog, Random House>>

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