Leroy Brown, the boy detective better known as Encyclopedia Brown, turned fifty this year, and New York City helped celebrate last week by proclaiming October 26 “Encyclopedia Brown Day” and hosting a fun-filled reception at the New York Public Library (NYPL).
The character is the creation of the late author Donald Sobol, who wrote the first book, Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective (T. Nelson), in the series in 1963. Before his death in 2012 at the age of 87, Sobol witnessed his series become a staple in classrooms and children’s libraries across the country, selling millions of copies worldwide and being translated into 12 languages.
At the reception, City Councilman Robert Jackson read the official proclamation naming the day, and presented it to Sobol’s widow Rose Sobol and her two sons Eric and John, who stood beside images of the 1963 and 2013 versions of the Encyclopedia Brown character.
Also in attendance were 70 moustached children, accompanied by their parents, who took part in a celebratory scavenger hunt at the library’s historic 42ndStreet Schwarzman Building. Roaming among three floors of the library, the kid detectives had to find answers to questions with a kid lit flare.
In the Dorot Jewish Division of the library, for example, they were tasked with finding an Isaac Bashevis Singer book that had an animal in the title. In the genealogy room, the kids had to answer a question about Dan Yaccarino’s book All the Way to America (Knopf, 2011), the story of the author’s grandfather’s journey to the United States.
Among the youthful scavengers was Nicholas Sobol, the 10-year-old grandson of the author, who has read many of his grandfather’s books, he told School Library Journal. Like many boys his age, he “enjoys solving the mysteries in the books,” he said.
It is only fitting that the celebration was held at the library because, according to Louise Lareau, managing librarian of NYPL’s Children’s Center, it was there that Sobol got the idea for Encyclopedia Brown in the first place. While at the library doing research, Sobol was mistakenly given a book of puzzles, which featured puzzles on one side of the page and solutions on the other. Noted Lareau, this inspired Sobol to write his 28-book mystery series featuring the same sort of premise.