As a double grandparent, I feel the obligation to pass on the love of books to my granddaughters. Since neither live within 200 miles of me, this is a little difficult—I can’t read books to them as often as I would like. So, right now, I’m mainly just buying and shipping the books in the forlorn hope that if I stack up enough of them in their rooms, it will eventually reach educational critical mass.
Never having been a little girl, picking the appropriate books for then is rather difficult. Eventually, I just decided to buy the books that I loved as a child. After all, what could possibly be wrong with my granddaughters being more like me? I am sure that their mothers will agree.
First, I decided to send all the children’s books from the house. This would inevitably open up space for me to purchase more books for myself. After a brief search, it was rather obvious that we didn’t have that many. Years ago, I bought books for the two boys, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One by the truck load. What happened to them?
No matter, I have an account at the local used book store where my credit balance must be in quadruple digits from taking them all the unwanted textbooks that publishers mail me in the vain hope that I will require my students to buy copies. At least once every two weeks, I am the recipient of a valuable gift such as The History of the US Postal Service: 1824-1832. It was hard to part with such a treasure, but I managed.
Unfortunately, my favorite local used book store was strangely out of good children’s books, too. Almost none of the titles that I remembered from my youth were in stock. I found a copy of Twain’s Tom Sawyer, but the store only had four bedraggled copies of the Hardy Boys. Where did the rest of them go? The Hardy Boys have been in continual production since the 1920’s under the pseudonym of Franklin W. Dixon. Actually, Dixon never existed and the books were written and rewritten by a series of underpaid ghostwriters. I can remember when my nephew was reading an ancient copy of “The Tower Treasure” when he suddenly had a vocabulary problem.
“What’s a jal-o-py?” he asked. It took me a second to understand what he meant--no one jumps in a jalopy to chase after criminals anymore. Maybe one of the car companies should think about introducing a line of jalopies—authors everywhere would be appreciative. A chase scene in a Honda Accord lacks panache.
I have no idea how many millions and millions of copies of these books have been printed (the vast majority of them were hard backs). Where are they? I know I gave one copy to my nephew, but where are the rest? And what happened to all the Tom Swift books? The Nancy Drew series? I snatched up a single dog-eared copy of L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time but could find not a single copy of Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks. Where was Robert Heinlein’s Star Beast or The Rolling Stones?
Also missing were the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald Sobol, my childhood favorite. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown was a smart but otherwise ordinary boy who solved mysteries by using his brains. He had accumulated a vast knowledge by reading endless books. This was a very appealing character to a boy who lived in a small Texas town. I devoured the books. Encyclopedia Brown, at least to me, made it cool to read and be smart.
Many years later, I worked a couple of years for Bantam Books. One summer, I got to attend the American Book Association meeting in Miami. The convention was a lot of fun, chiefly because I got to meet a lot of authors; Leon Uris, Xaviera Hollander, Mickey Spillane, and most importantly, Donald Sobol, the author of the Encyclopedia Brown series. At some point, I bought Mr. Sobol a drink at the hotel bar and we discussed his books. Mr. Sobol was intelligent, polite, and talked at length about the publishing business. To my astonishment—and his amusement—I remembered many of the early stories better than he did. I had read them since he had, and he had long since moved on to other projects.
Sadly, Donald Sobol passed away last week at the age of 87. He authored over 65 books, including 28 featuring Encyclopedia Brown.
As we finished that drink in the bar, Mr. Sobol kindly autographed a couple of his books for me. I just remembered that I gave them to my nephew.
I’d call my nephew about those books, but he has four kids and is probably wondering what happened to all the children’s books he used to have. Where do they all go? This is a mystery for Encyclopedia Brown.