Born October 4, 1924, in New York, NY; son of Ira J. and Ida (Gelula) Sobol; married Rose Tiplitz (an engineer and children's author), 1955; children: Diane, Glenn, Eric, John. Education: Oberlin College, B.A., 1948; attended New School for Social Research, 1949–51.
Office —c/o Children's Publicity, Random House, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
Author. New York Sun, New York City, copy boy, then reporter, 1948; Long Island Daily News, New York City, reporter, 1949–51; Macy's Department Store, buyer, 1953–55; freelance writer, 1955—.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
Young Reader's Choice Award, Pacific Northwest Library Association, for Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace, 1972; Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, for his contribution to mystery writing in the United States, 1975; Garden State Children's Book Award, for Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand, 1977; Aiken County Children's Book Award, for Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case, 1977; Buckeye honor citation (grades 4–8 category), for Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Midnight Visitor, 1982.
Over the course of children's writer Donald J. Sobol's career, he has written a number of different kinds of books for young audiences, but he is best known for his "Encyclopedia Brown" detective series which began in 1963. Each Encyclopedia Brown book featured the brainy sleuth solving ten different short mysteries. Over the years, Brown became one of the most famous young detectives created in fiction. Brown was not Sobol's only creation. The author wrote at least 65 books on a variety of topics from history and biography to long fiction and fun facts, but many were mysteries. Other famous series of Sobol's included the "Wacky" Series, the Encyclopedia Brown Record Books, and the Two–Minute Mystery syndicated column featuring Dr. Haledijian. A very productive writer, Sobol told Adam Langer of Book, "I took on writing as a lifetime career on the supposition that I would write until I fell over at the typewriter."
Sobol was born on October 4, 1924, in New York City. He is the son of Ira J. Sobol, a self–made man, and his wife, Ida. Sobol and his brother and sister had a happy childhood growing up in New York City. Sobol said he was not as smart as his creation Brown and much more interested in baseball. He attended the Ethical Culture Schools and graduated from the Fieldston School. Soon after he graduated in 1942, he joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War II. A member of the Army's Corp of Engineers, he served in the Pacific Theater and in Europe. Sobol was discharged in 1946.
After his discharge from the Army, Sobol returned to the United States and began going to college. He entered Oberlin College in Ohio. While a student at the small college, Sobol became interested in writing when he took a short story writing class taught by Professor Ralph Singleton. Singleton encouraged Sobol in his writing, though Sobol still harbored dreams of playing professional baseball. It took several years before Sobol made fiction writing the focus of his career.
Sobol earned his B.A. in 1948 from Oberlin. After graduation, he returned to New York City. Sobol's first job was at a newspaper, the New York Sun, as a copy boy. He was soon promoted and became a writer for the paper. In 1949, Sobol left the Sun and went to the Long Island Daily News where he also worked as a writer through 1951. In addition, Sobol wrote—sometimes under a pen name—for a number of magazines. He also continued his education at New York City's New School for Social Research from 1949 to 1951.
For his next job, Sobol moved away from journalism. He was a buyer at Macy's from 1953–55. Sobol left this job in 1955 and became a full–time writer when he married Rose Tiplitz. The couple had four children, Diane, Glenn, Eric, and John. Sobol continued to write for magazines and began working on a book.
One of the first books that Sobol published was 1957's The Double Quest. This was a historical children's novel set in twelfth–century England. Aimed at teenagers, the novel contained elements of the King Arthur story as well as a mystery. Another early book of Sobol's was The Lost Dispatch: A Story of Antietam, published in 1958. This was also a historical children's novel set at the end of the Civil War. Other books written by him were historical but not fiction, like 1959's The First Book of Medieval Man and 1960's Two Flags Flying —about the Civil War—written to help children understand these time periods.
Sobol also had a syndicated column that was published internationally between 1959 and 1968. Called Two–Minute Mysteries, it was Sobol's first mystery series. While the syndicated column was still being published, Sobol moved with his family to Florida in 1961. There, he continued to write many fiction and non–fiction books. In 1961, he wrote The Wright Brothers of Kitty Hawk, a fictional biography of the first men who flew an airplane in the United States. In 1962, he edited The First Book of the Barbarian Invaders, A.D. 375–511. Sometimes Sobol employed the help of his wife, Rose, who co–wrote The First Book of Stocks and Bonds with him. Sobol followed this with more historical facts in 1965's Lock, Stock, and Barrel, which contained 50 short biographical sketches of American Revolutionary War men.
In 1963, Sobol turned from these primarily non–fictional topics to mysteries. He published his first Encyclopedia Brown book that year, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective. The book was rejected by 26 publishers before it was accepted by T. Nelson who only insisted on a few changes. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective received praise from the first. Each of the ten stories in the book, like all those in the Encyclopedia Brown series, focused on Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown, a ten–year–old boy who was given his nickname because of his intellectual prowess. The boy was the son of the Idaville, Florida, police chief, Chief Brown, whom he helped solve big mysteries while solving smaller ones found in every day life for local people. Brown was helped by his friend Sally Kimball, and was often at the mercy of enemy Bugs Meany.
Sobol made the Encyclopedia Brown books young–reader friendly. Many clues were given in the course of each story, and readers could find the solutions in the back of the book. The clues and mysteries were simple for those readers who were observant. Sobol also created interesting plots full of humor, puns, jokes, and details that created an atmosphere illustrating a child's life and activities. The plots were also often fast–moving and engaging. Some critics called Sobol's plots in the series formulaic, but he created Brown and his friends to be engaging for young readers, especially those who did not like reading. In a review of Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Slippery Salamander, Lauren Peterson of Booklist wrote, "The series' success lies in its format. Budding detectives love the excitement of trying to solve cases on their own or with a buddy.… Many youngsters also like the fact that the mysteries are only a few pages long."
Though Sobol continued to produce Encyclopedia Brown books regularly over the years, he continued to create other series as well. In 1967, he began the book series that shared the same title as his earlier syndicated column, Two–Minute Mysteries, featuring a character named Dr. Haledijian who solved crimes. This character was featured in several other books including 1971's More Two–Minute Mysteries and 1975's Still More Two–Minute Mysteries. Other mystery books that Sobol wrote included 1967's Secret Agents Four, which was a funny teenage spy fiasco book, and 1981's Angie's First Case, which featured a young female detective. A later mystery book for Sobol was The Amazing Power of Asher Fine in 1986.
Sobol also wrote other kinds of fiction and nonfiction. In 1970, he wrote Greta the Strong, a medieval fiction tale set in the era after King Arthur. Five years later, he published True Sea Adventures, 22 nonfiction stories meant to appeal to young readers. In 1979, Sobol wrote Disasters, about 13 disasters, ranging from the Black Death to mine cave–ins and blackouts.
Sobol later used the Encyclopedia Brown name on a number of nonfiction books featuring facts for young readers. Among the first was 1981's Encyclopedia Brown's Second Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts. In 1984, he wrote Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Spies, full of odd facts about spies in Germany, Great Britain, and France. Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Cars, published in 1987, featured true stories about cars that were weird and way out. Sobol was sometimes criticized for using the Encyclopedia Brown name to sell these books, which had next to nothing to do with the mystery series featuring that character.
Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown books were adapted for television in 1989. Encyclopedia Brown: The Boy Detective aired as a television movie on HBO. The series was also adapted by others for film strips and comic strips. Soon after that television movie aired, Sobol's readers caught a mistake he made in his first Encyclopedia Brown book. In 1990, first and second grade readers at a Philadelphia elementary school asked Sobol to explain how in one mystery, the villain was able to slip a boiled egg into a carton of fresh eggs that were purchased at a grocery store by the contestants of an egg–spinning contest before they were used. Sobol admitted the oversight and added a correction in subsequent editions of the book.
Sobol continued to work late in his life on the Encyclopedia Brown series and other works. He still wrote 40 hours a week while in his late 70s. He had files of clues and solutions for future mysteries yet to be written. Sobol also read a lot for himself, to find further ideas for clues. Of the aim of his books, Sobol told a writer in PNLA Quarterly, as excerpted in Children's Literature Review, "Outwitting you, the reader, is hard, but harder still is making you laugh. I try above all else to entertain. Yes, it is nice to have a message, too. And I have one. It is that all men are brothers, and that a religion or a race cannot be blamed for the misbehavior of one of its members."
The Double Quest, Watts, 1957.
The Lost Dispatch: A Story of Antietam, Watts, 1958.
First Book of Medieval Man (nonfiction), Watts, 1959; revised edition published in England as The First Book of Medieval Britain, Mayflower, 1960.
Two Flags Flying (nonfiction), Platt, 1960.
A Civil War Sampler, Watts, 1961.
The Wright Brothers of Kitty Hawk (nonfiction), T. Nelson, 1961.
(Editor) The First Book of the Barbarian Invaders, A.D. 375–511 (nonfiction), Watts, 1962.
(With Rose Sobol) The First Book of Stocks and Bonds (nonfiction), 1963.
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, T. Nelson, 1963.
(Editor) An American Revolutionary Award Reader (nonfiction), Watts, 1964.
Lock, Stock, and Barrel (nonfiction), Westminster, 1965.
Encyclopedia Brown And the Case of the Secret Pitch, T. Nelson, 1966.
Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues, T. Nelson, 1966.
Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man, T. Nelson, 1967.
Two Minute Mysteries, Dutton, 1967.
Secret Agents Four, Four Winds Press, 1967.
(Editor) The Strongest Man in the World, Westminster, 1967.
Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All, T. Nelson, 1968.
Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace, T. Nelson, 1969.
Greta the Strong, Follett, 1970.
Milton, the Model A, Harvey House, 1970.
Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day, T. Nelson, 1970.
Encyclopedia Brown Tracks Them Down, T. Nelson, 1971.
More Two–Minute Mysteries, Dutton, 1971.
Encyclopedia Brown Shows The Way, T. Nelson, 1972.
The Amazons of Greek Mythology, A.S. Barnes, 1972.
Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case, T. Nelson, 1973.
Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (aka The Case of the Exploding Plumbing), T. Nelson, 1974.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles, T. Nelson, 1975.
Great Sea Stories, Dutton, 1975.
Still More Two–Minute Mysteries, Dutton, 1975.
True Sea Adventures (nonfiction), T. Nelson, 1975.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Eleven: Case of the Exploding Plumbing and Other Mysteries, Dutton, 1976.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Midnight Visitor, T. Nelson, 1977.
(Editor) The Best Animal Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Warner, 1979.
Disasters (nonfiction), Archway, 1979.
Encyclopedia Brown Carries On, Four Winds, 1980.
Angie's First Case, Four Winds, 1981.
Encyclopedia Brown Sets the Pace, Dutton, 1981.
Encyclopedia Brown's Second Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts (nonfiction), Random House Children's Books, 1981.
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Crimes (nonfiction), Dutton, 1982.
Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake, Four Winds Press, 1983.
Encyclopedia Brown (omnibus), Angus & Robertson, 1983.
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Spies (nonfiction), Morrow, 1984.
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Sports (nonfiction), vol. 1, Morrow, 1984.
(With Glenn Andrews) Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake!: A Cook and Case Book, Scholastic, 1984.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Handprints, Morrow, 1985.
Encyclopedia Brown's Third Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts (nonfiction), HarperCollins Juvenile Books, 1985.
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Animals (nonfiction), Morrow, 1985.
The Amazing Power of Ashur Fine: A Fine Mystery, Macmillan, 1986.
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Outdoors (nonfiction), Morrow, 1987.
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Cars (nonfiction), Morrow, 1987.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt, Morrow, 1988.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers, Morrow, 1990.
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Strange but True Crimes (nonfiction), Scholastic, 1992.
The Best of Encyclopedia Brown, Scholastic, 1993.
My Name is Amelia, Atheneum, 1994.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Two Spies, Delacorte, 1995.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of Pablo's Nose, Delacorte 1996.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog, 1998.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Slippery Salamander, Delacorte, 1999.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Jumping Frogs, Delacorte, 2003.
Children's Literature Review, vol. 4, Gale Research, 1982.
Contemporary Authors, vol. 38, Gale Research, 1993.
Fourth Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators, H.W. Wilson, 1978.
Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Silvey, Anita, editor, The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Something About the Author, vol. 132, Gale, 2002.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th ed., St. James Press, 1999.
Ward, Martha E. et al., Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd ed., Scarecrow Press, 1990.
Book, July–August 2003, p. 34.
Booklist, September 1, 1999, p. 134; February 1, 2004, p. 977.
Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 1984, p. B7.
Entertainment Weekly, October 24, 2003, p. 112.
"Author Information," Kidsreads.com , http://www.kidsreads.com/series/series–brown–author.asp (April 7, 2004).
"Donald J. Sobol," AuthorTracke.ca , http://www.authortracker.ca/author.asp?a=authorid&b=18614 (April 7, 2004).
"Encyclopedia Brown," Thrillingdetective.com , http://www.thrillindetective.com/eyes/encyclopedia.html (April 7, 2004).
"Juvenile Books Author of the Month: Donald J. Sobol," Greenville Public Library, http://www.yourlibrary.ws/childrens_webpage/j–author102001.htm (April 7, 2004).
— A. Petruso