Donald J. Sobol, who inspired generations of young readers with his charming Encyclopedia Brown mystery novels, died in Miami last week on July 11th. According to the Associated Press, his death was not mysterious—he passed away from "natural causes" with his wife Rose by his side. Sobol, a NYC native who served in the Army Corps of Engineers during WWII, got his start at the old New York Sun as a copywriter, eventually becoming a reporter and syndicated columnist in 1958. His column, Two Minute Mystery, was followed five years later by his first Encyclopedia Brown Boy Detective book, which was rejected two dozen times before it was published.
For almost a half century, Sobol pumped out the popular Encyclopedia Brown stories, which featured the titular boy detective Brown, who charges "25 cents per day, plus expenses," giving many young readers their first tantalizing fantasies of entrepreneurship. Brown's partner is the tough and athletic Sally Kimball, a strong female character that Sobol's son describes as "groundbreaking back in 1963 when the series was first published."
The Encyclopedia Brown books were translated into 12 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, and in 1989 the serial was adapted into a live action HBO series that lasted ten episodes. (Brown also got The Onion treatment in 2003, in a very funny article headlined "Idaville Detective 'Encyclopedia' Brown Found Dead In Library Dumpster.") According to Penguin, Sobol’s last Encyclopedia Brown adventure, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme, will be published in October. His family asks that donations in his memory be made to The New York Public Library, via this website.