My sister and I loved Encyclopedia Brown, the fifth-grade nerd/observer who seldom took more than a day to unravel the nefarious conspiracies of childhood. Every child detective requires a sidekick, obviously, and I thought Encyclopedia’s sidekick, Sally Kimball, was way cooler than any of Nancy Drew’s. In addition to being smart, Sally was the only kid in town who could beat up Bugs Meany.The actual mysteries of Donald J. Sobol’s series were less important, I contend, than the notion they imparted that knowledge and ratiocination could make the world a better place for everyone.
About the particular criminals Encyclopedia and Sally outwitted, the only one I remember is a cheater in a disgusting-sneakers competition. But as a child I treasured the idea of this infinitely just place called Idaville. In Idaville the weak were rarely bullied for long, and the bad guys didn’t get away.
11 February 2013
Katherine Boo told the New York Times Book Review about some of her favorite childhood reading: