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Encyclopedia Brown is a series of books featuring the adventures of boy detective Leroy Brown, nicknamed "Encyclopedia" for his intelligence and range of knowledge. The series of 29 children's novels was written (one co-written) by Donald J. Sobol, with the first book published in 1963 and the most recent new novel published in 2012—shortly after Sobol's death. The Encyclopedia Brown series has spawned a comic strip, a TV series, compilation books of puzzles and games, and a feature film is in development (2013).
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Each book in the Encyclopedia Brown mystery series is self-contained in that the reader is not required to have read earlier books in order to understand the stories. The major characters, settings, etc. are usually introduced (or reintroduced) in each book.
Books featuring Brown are subdivided into a number—usually ten or more—of (possibly interlinked) short stories, each of which presents a mystery. The mysteries are intended to be solved by the reader, thanks to the placement of a logical or factual inconsistency somewhere within the text. This is very similar to the layout of Donald Sobol's other book series, Two-Minute Mysteries. Brown invariably solves the case by exposing this inconsistency, in the "Answers" section in the back of the book.
Often these books follow a formula where the first chapter involves Brown solving a case at the dinner table for his father, the local police chief in the fictional town of Idaville. The state is not given but it is assumed to be somewhere in northeastern Florida. When Chief Brown barely tastes his meal that was the cue he was handed a difficult case. He pulls out his casebook and goes over it with the family. Encyclopedia solves these cases by briefly closing his eyes while he thinks deeply, then asking a single question which directly leads to him finding the solution.
The second mystery often begins in the Brown garage on Rover Avenue, where Encyclopedia has set up his own detective agency to help neighborhood children solve cases for "25 cents per day, plus expenses - No case too small." This second case usually involves the town bully and mischief maker Bugs Meany, leader of a gang who call themselves the Tigers, who, after being foiled, will attempt revenge in the third mystery.
In the third mystery the plot involves Encyclopedia's partner, close friend, and bodyguard, Sally Kimball, the one person under 12 years of age to physically stand up to Bugs. She is the only reason neither Bugs nor any of his Tigers ever try to physically attack Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia tends to dislike anyone whom she has a crush on, possibly indicating that he has a crush on her. Also intelligent, Sally once attempted—in the first book of the series—to prove herself smarter than Encyclopedia by stumping him with a mystery of her own creation. Ironically the contest was held at the Tigers' clubhouse with Bugs and the others cheering him on. However, she was beaten in the contest (although Encyclopedia admitted that she almost tricked him), after which she became his friend. In subsequent storylines Bugs or his gang usually sets up some sort of trap to get Encyclopedia or Sally in trouble. However, as in the previous story, they make a key mistake that Encyclopedia exposes.
Later cases may find Encyclopedia assisting his father at a crime scene (rarely more serious than larceny, and Encyclopedia is always discreet when helping his father) or interacting with people around town, often exposing scams. One such example is a high school dropout and would-be con artist named Wilford Wiggins who spends time trying to dream up schemes to fleece kids out of their money. Like Bugs, his schemes have an inconsistency which Encyclopedia exposes.
In some cases it is Sally and not Encyclopedia who figures it out because in her words, "You are a boy." In other words, she notices things that only a female would find inconsistent. Sally further displays her intelligence in the various mysteries in that she often can deduce who committed the crime, or whether a certain person is lying, but she simply cannot always prove it.
From December 3, 1978, to September 20, 1980, Encyclopedia Brown was a daily and Sunday comic strip syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate. The artwork was done by Frank Bolle, and Donald J. Sobol was credited as the writer.
The books were originally published by Thomas Nelson Inc. and later, by Lodestar Books. They were also published by Scholastic Inc. and Bantam Books through arrangement with those publishers. The current publishing rights are held by Penguin Books. Current editions of the books feature new illustrations in place of the originals by Leonard Shortall, updated to contemporary cultural styles.
Encyclopedia Brown has also been used in classrooms by teachers to instruct students in skills such as writing reports. A filmstrip series with accompany audio cassette tapes and workbooks was published by The Society for Visual Education, Inc. in 1986 for elementary and middle schools' use. The producer and writer was Lynne V. Gibbs. The following four Encyclopedia Brown stories were utilized: "The Case of the Missing Statue", "The Case of the Happy Nephew", "The Case of the Kidnapped Pigs", and "The Case of the Marble Shooter". According to WorldCat's library catalog listing, "As super-sleuth Encyclopedia Brown solves four mysteries, he shows students how he fills out his reports, including selecting a topic, gathering information, taking notes, making an outline, and revising and editing." (http://www.worldcat.org/title/encyclopedia-brown-introduces-report-writing-skills/oclc/16980494) The School Library Journal offered a review of this item in its April 1987 issue.
A TV series of Encyclopedia Brown premiered on HBO in 1989 with 30-minute episodes. Scott Bremner played the title role, with Laura Bridge playing Sally. The live action series ran a little over 10 episodes. It was produced by Howard David Deutsch and directed by Savage Steve Holland. It also included a 60-minute episode ("The Case of the Missing Time Capsule").
Exact episode run information is difficult to track down, but here is at least a partial list of episodes (not necessarily in airdate order), most all of which have been officially released to VHS.
Matthew Johnson, director of The Dirties, is currently in talks to write the movie. Roy Lee and Howard David Deutsch [producer of the 1989 Encyclopedia Brown TV series] will be producing.
The Encyclopedia Brown books, in order of publication (parentheses indicate numbers on original release cover art):
In 1989, a special Solve-It-Yourself Mystery Sweepstakes was held in conjunction with the Encyclopedia Brown books. In the back of specially-marked copies of "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt", Sobol presented an unsolved mystery for the contestant to solve for themselves and submit an answer for a chance to win a prize. The mystery for the contest was called "The Case of the Missing Birthday Gift", wherein Encyclopedia had to solve the case of a stolen bicycle that was given as a birthday gift to Willie Grant on his tenth birthday. The Tigers make an appearance as the suspects in the case - Bugs Meany, Jack Beck, and Rocky Graham all show up at the Tigers' clubhouse. The contest ran from January 15 to June 30, 1989 in conjunction with Bantam Books. Contestants were allowed to enter as many times as they wished, provided they used a separate envelope for each entry. The winners were chosen in a random drawing from all the correct entries that were sent in. The Grand Prize winner received a BMX bicycle and an autographed copy of "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt". Second Prize winners (up to 10 winners of this were allowed) received Encyclopedia Brown five-volume boxed sets and an autographed copy of "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt." Third Prize winners (up to 25 winners of this were allowed) received an autographed copy of "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt". All winners also received a certificate of Superb Detective Skills signed by Sobol. The sweepstakes was only available to USA and Canada residents. No purchase was necessary, as one could either use the official form in the back of specially-marked copies of "Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt" or send in a 3 by 5 inch index card with the solution and contact information.