‘Encyclopedia Brown’ author Donald Sobol has died


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Donald Sobol, author of the beloved children’s book series ‘Encyclopedia Brown,’ died Wednesday in Miami. He was 87.

Sobol was born in New York and served in World War II. After going to college at Oberlin, he worked as a journalist in New York, then left to pursue a writing career in 1951. Although he was having some success, his ‘Encyclopedia Brown’ manuscript was turned down two dozen times before it found a publisher.


The first book, ‘Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective’ was published by T. Nelson in 1963. It proved so popular that Sobol was soon following up with more stories about the 10-year-old Leroy ‘Encyclopedia’ Brown and his partner, tomboy Sally Kimball. Eventually, there would be almost 30 books in the series, which has never gone out of print.

A fund in memory of Donald Sobol has been set up at the New York Public Library.

Sobol had moved with his wife and family from New York to Florida in 1961; the ‘Encyclopedia Brown’ series was set in the fictional Florida town Idaville. Sobol tried to retain a measure of anonymity; he did not grant television interviews and preferred not to be photographed. ‘I am very content with staying in the background and letting the books do the talking,’ he told the Oberlin alumni magazine in 2011.

Before ‘Encyclopedia Brown,’ Sobol had been publishing historical nonfiction aimed at children, with titles that included ‘The Double Quest’ and ‘The Lost Dispatch: A Story of Antietam.’ He had a hit with the short column ‘Two Minute Mysteries,’ which was syndicated by newspapers from 1959-68.

Sobol, who continued writing into his 80s, used his own experience as a lesson for aspiring writers. ‘Persevere, and don’t take no for an answer,’ he said. ‘And if you really think [the publishers] are right, then look over the manuscript and polish it a little more.’



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-- Carolyn Kellogg