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 wherein the first chapter involves Brown solving a case at the dinner table for his father, the local police chief in the fictional seaside town of Idaville in an unspecified state. When Chief Brown barely tastes his meal, that is a 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 Sally 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 set 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, as she tells Encyclopedia, "You are a boy." In other words, she notices things that only a girl 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.Chief Brown, Encyclopedia's father and Idaville's Chief of Police
Mrs. Brown, Encyclopedia's mother
Sally Kimball, Encyclopedia's friend, business partner & bodyguard
Charlie Stewart, who collects animal teeth
Cicero Sturgess, Idaville's leading child actor
Benny Breslin, whose loud snoring often proves to be a nuisance on camping trips
Pablo Pizarro, Idaville's leading child artist
Billy and Jody Turner
Mort "Fangs" Liveright, who can open a bottle of root beer with his teeth
The Tigers: neighborhood bullies whose clubhouse is an unused toolshed behind Mr. Sweeney's Auto Body Shop. The author frequently introduces them by suggesting a different name, e.g. "They called themselves the Tigers. They should have called themselves the Mountaineers. They were never on the level."
Bugs Meany (the leader)
Wilford Wiggins, a high school dropout who always tries to get kids to invest in assorted "get rich quick" schemes, but is inevitably thwarted by Encyclopedia
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 Encyclopedia Brown books experienced some enduring popularity.
In 1976, the Mystery Writers of America honored Sobol and his Encyclopedia Brown series with a special Edgar Award.
Educators have used Encyclopedia Brown in classrooms to instruct students in skills such as writing reports. In 1986, the Society for Visual Education, Inc. published a filmstrip series, produced and written by Lynne V. Gibbs, with accompanying audio cassette tapes and workbooks for elementary and middle schools' use. 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."
The Encyclopedia Brown television series 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. 1."The Case of the Missing Time Capsule" (hour long special first aired in 1989 to kick off series and released to VHS.) 2."The Case of the Burglared Baseball Cards" (Released to VHS) 3."The Case of the Amazing Race Car" (Released to VHS) 4."The Case of the Flaming Beauty Queen" (Released to VHS) 5."The Case of the Ghostly Rider" (Released to VHS) 6."The Case of the Incredible Culpepper" (This episode does not seem to have been released to VHS. The Movie Kids web site (http://www.moviekids.tv/code/epi/index.php?id=18302) offers a synopsis: The big Idaville magic show is spoiled when a lion belonging to The Incredible Culpepper is stolen. E.B. and Sally are immediately on the case and identify several suspects. With their typical detective skills they soon solve the crime and return the lion to Culpepper. The magic show finally entertains all the good folks of the town- Thanks to Encyclopedia Brown.) 7."The Case of the Missing U.F.O." (Released to VHS) 8."Encyclopedia Brown, The Boy Detective in One Minute Mysteries" (This episode adapted 6 of the Encyclopedia Brown stories from the books, including Encyclopedia's very first case - "The Case of Natty Nat", "The Case of the Scattered Cards", "The Case of the Civil War Sword", "The Case of the Foot Warmer", "The Case of the Bitter Drink" and "The Case of the Great Merko". This was also released to VHS.)"The Case of the Incredible Culpepper" (This episode does not seem to have been released on VHS. The Movie Kids website offers a gallery of screen captures and a synopsis: "The big Idaville magic show is spoiled when a lion belonging to The Incredible Culpepper is stolen. E.B. and Sally are immediately on the case and identify several suspects. With their typical detective skills they soon solve the crime and return the lion to Culpepper. The magic show finally entertains all the good folks of the town- Thanks to Encyclopedia Brown.)According to this site (http://www.theguidearchive.com/info.php?ID=1470), the episode aired in February 1991 on multiple dates: 2/6, 2/15, 2/18 and 2/28.
In June 2013, Warner Bros. optioned the Encyclopedia Brown books into a feature film.
Matthew Johnson, director of The Dirties (2013), was in talks to write the movie. Roy Lee and Howard David Deutsch (producer of the 1989 Encyclopedia Brown TV series) and Jonathan Zakin were announced as producing.
The Encyclopedia Brown books, in order of publication (parentheses indicate numbers on original release cover art):
Encyclopedia Brown's Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts (1979, ISBN 0-440-02329-7)
Encyclopedia Brown's First Book of Puzzles and Games (1980, ISBN 0-553-15300-5) (Note: Jim Razzi is listed as the author, with an acknowledgement of being based upon the Encyclopedia Brown series created by Donald J. Sobol.)
Encyclopedia Brown's Second Book of Puzzles and Games (1980, ISBN 0-553-15099-5) (Note: Jim Razzi is listed as the author, with an acknowledgement of being based upon the Encyclopedia Brown series created by Donald J. Sobol.)
Encyclopedia Brown's Third Book of Puzzles and Games (1981, ISBN 0-553-15077-4) (Note: Jim Razzi is listed as the author, with an acknowledgement of being based upon the Encyclopedia Brown series created by Donald J. Sobol.)
Encyclopedia Brown's Fourth Book of Puzzles and Games (1981, ISBN 0-553-15110-X) (Note: Jim Razzi is listed as the author, with an acknowledgement of being based upon the Encyclopedia Brown series created by Donald J. Sobol.)
Encyclopedia Brown's Second Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts (1981, ISBN 0-440-02260-6)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Crimes (1983 ISBN 0-553-15160-6)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Spies (1984 ISBN 0-553-15257-2)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Sports (1984 ISBN 0-553-15269-6)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Animals (1985, ISBN 0-553-15346-3)
Encyclopedia Brown's Third Record Book of Weird and Wonderful Facts (1985, ISBN 0-688-05705-5)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Comic Strips #1 (1985, ISBN 0-553-15228-9) (Note: This is a compilation of the "Encyclopedia Brown" newspaper comic strips. Elliot Caplin is listed as the author. Most of the comics are based on the Donald J. Sobol stories, but there are some original stories too.)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Comic Strips #2 (1985, ISBN 0-553-15217-3) (Note: This is a compilation of the "Encyclopedia Brown" newspaper comic strips. Elliot Caplin is listed as the author. Most of the comics are based on the Donald J. Sobol stories, but there are some original stories too.)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Cars (1987, ISBN 0-688-06222-9)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Outdoors (1988 ISBN 0-553-15598-9)
Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Strange But True Crimes (1992, ISBN 0-590-44148-5)
Encyclopedia Brown and his Best Cases Ever (2013, ISBN 978-0147508713) (Note: This book is a commemorative book released in celebration of Encyclopedia Brown's 50th. anniversary. The book contains a letter from Donald J. Sobol detailing the history of the book series and its creation as well as 15 cases selected from the previously published books.)
The "Book of Puzzles and Games" books (4 books in total) were sometimes included in Encyclopedia Brown box sets with the original Encyclopedia Brown mystery books by Sobol.
Encyclopedia Brown books have also been released in Ebook format, as well as on compact disc and audio cassette tape.
- Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (1963, ISBN 0-525-67200-1, 1982 reissue ISBN 0-553-15724-8)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch (1965, ISBN 0-525-67202-8, reissued in 1976 as Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again, ISBN 0-590-01650-4)
- Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues (1966, ISBN 0-525-67204-4)
- Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man (1967, ISBN 0-525-67206-0)
- Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All (1968, ISBN 0-525-67212-5)
- Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace (1969, ISBN 0-525-67208-7)
- Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day (1970, ISBN 0-525-67210-9)
- Encyclopedia Brown Tracks Them Down (1971, ISBN 0-553-15721-3)
- Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way (1972, ISBN 0-553-15737-X)
- Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case (1973, ISBN 0-553-15723-X)
- Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (1974, ISBN 0-553-48133-9, reissued as Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Exploding Plumbing and Other Mysteries, ISBN 0-590-44093-4)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles (1975, ISBN 0-590-43343-1)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Midnight Visitor (1977, ISBN 0-553-15586-5)
- Encyclopedia Brown Carries On (1980, ISBN 0-02-786190-2)
- Encyclopedia Brown Sets the Pace (1981, ISBN 0-02-786200-3)
- (15) Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake (1982, ISBN 0-590-07843-7) (Co-written with Glenn Andrews)
- Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Handprints (1985, ISBN 0-553-15739-6)
- (17) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt (1988, ISBN 0-553-15650-0)
- (18) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers (1990, ISBN 0-688-09012-5)
- (19) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Two Spies (1995, ISBN 0-385-32036-1)
- (20) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of Pablo's Nose (1996, ISBN 0-385-32184-8)
- (21) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog (1998, ISBN 0-385-32576-2)
- (22) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Slippery Salamander (2000, ISBN 0-385-32579-7)
- (23) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Jumping Frogs (2003, ISBN 0-385-72931-6)
- (24) Encyclopedia Brown Cracks the Case (2007, ISBN 978-0-525-47924-6)
- (25) Encyclopedia Brown, Super Sleuth (2009, ISBN 978-0-525-42100-9)
- (26) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFO (2010, ISBN 978-0-525-42210-5)
- (27) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Carnival Crime (2011, ISBN 978-0-525-42211-2)
- (28) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme (2012, ISBN 978-0-525-42582-3)
From January 15 to June 30, 1989, a special Solve-It-Yourself Mystery Sweepstakes was held in conjunction with the Encyclopedia Brown books and Bantam 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 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.
Contestants were allowed to enter as many times as they wished, provided they used a separate envelope for each entry. 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" index card with the solution and the contestant's contact information.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal: Last of the Innocent graphic novel features a reference to Encyclopedia Brown, with a grown-up analogue of Encyclopedia featured in the comic, as confirmed by Ed Brubaker himself.
John Warner has used the book format for political satire.