Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective

10 Mysteries to Solve

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective cover art
Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA)


Since Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol was first published in 1963, the 96-pagr book and the many other Encyclopedia Brown books that followed, have delighted young readers, their parents and their teachers. In this introduction to the boy detective, kids have the opportunity to read 10 chapter-long mysteries and then figure out how Encyclopedia Brown solved them before they read the explanation at the back of the book.


Kids love the challenge and parents and teachers love to see them reading and using higher order thinking skills as they seek to solve the mysteries. I recommend the series for ages 8 to 12, as well as older kids who love a challenge. It’s also a book that appeals to reluctant readers.

Who Is Encyclopedia Brown?

Leroy Brown is a fifth grader, but he is no ordinary ten-year-old.  He is very bright and loves to read. As a result, his head is filled with facts and people think of him as “…a complete library walking around in sneakers.” Consequently, everyone, except his parents and teachers, calls Leroy Brown “Encyclopedia” Brown.

The Story

Encyclopedia Brown lives with his mother and father in the small town of Idaville. His father is the chief of police. Chief Brown and the Idaville police force have a statewide reputation for solving crimes.

However, what no one knows except Encyclopedia Brown and his parents is who’s responsible for solving crimes in Idaville when the chief is stumped.

Chief Brown is a good police chief and so are the town’s policeman, but it is his son who often figures out the mystery of “who done it” through family discussions around the dinner table about difficult cases.

During the school year, classes and helping his father take up most of Encyclopedia Brown’s time, but things change during the summer.

  When school lets out, Encyclopedia Brown sets up his own detective agency in the family’s garage. For 25¢ a day, plus expenses, he solves mysteries for kids in his neighborhood, advertising on his sign, “no case too small.”

Each of the 10 brief chapters in Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective describes one case. Readers receive the same information that Encyclopedia Brown does. When he solves the case, readers are not given the solution but are challenged to figure it out for themselves before turning to the case’s solution page at the end of the book.  What fun!  Groups of kids often enjoy working together to solve the mysteries.

What are some of the mysteries in Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective? They include:

  • Discovering if criminal Nasty Nat really robbed The Men’s Shop
  • Proving the tent used by bully Bugs Meany and his friends, the Tigers, was stolen from Encyclopedia’s young client
  • Identifying and catching the thief who stole Mrs. Van Tweedle’s diamond necklace.

Encyclopedia Brown’s friend and partner is fifth grader Sally Kimball. She is so tough she can serve as both a helper and a bodyguard. The culprits are sometimes Bugs Meany and his Tigers.

Author Donald J. Sobol

Donald J. Sobol was born October 4, 1924 and on died July 11, 2012, just months before the publication of the 28th Encyclopedia Brown book Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme.

While Sobol was the author of more than 80 books, he was most well-known for the Encyclopedia Brown series and related Encyclopedia Brown books. In 1976, the Mystery Writers of America awarded Sobol an Edgar Award for the Encyclopedia Brown series.

(Sources: New York Times Obituary, 7/16/2012, KIdsReads: Donald J. Sobol, Publishers Weekly Obituary, 7/16/12)

Illustrator Leonard Shortall

Leonard Shortall not only illustrated a great many of the Encyclopedia Brown series books, but he also illustrated a number of children’s books for other authors. His illustrations for the Encyclopedia Brown books consist of pen and black ink sketches, spot illustrations at the beginning of each chapter and on each solution page, plus one full-page illustration related to the mystery per chapter. James Bernardin, who has illustrated more than 20 children's books, created the cover illustration for the book.

My Recommendation

I recommend Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective for kids in third to seventh grade, ages 8 to 12. Because the book is short and each chapter is a separate story, the book has proven popular with reluctant readers as well as enthusiastic readers. Some teachers and parents enjoy sharing a chapter mystery a day with their children, having them work as a team to solve the mystery.

Solving the mysteries requires young readers to pay close attention to details, evaluate all of the information available as to what can be proven to be true, then, apply the facts in a logical manner to determine the solution to the mystery. When kids do this and solve a mystery, they are eager to do it again and again. (Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2007. ISBN (paperback): 9780142408889; ISBN (e-book): 9781101007112)