Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol

Mar 28, 2016

I've told you before about how difficult it is to choose books for Aaron because he pretty much just goes with the flow and gives me no guidance whatsoever on what he likes and doesn't like. But now that I'm choosing books for Maxwell too, I can see why Aaron doesn't have an opinion: it's because Maxwell stole it.

That kid is bursting with too much opinion. While Aaron will read basically anything, Max will read almost nothing. Okay, I take that back. He has his favorite books that he reads over and over and over again: all of the National Geographic easy readers, almost any picture book about bugs, and his new subscription to Ranger Rick. So obviously, he's a nonfiction kind of kid. And I am totally okay with that.

But then, he's also my child who, after we finish reading a book aloud, will check it out on audio and listen to it on repeat at least twenty times before he returns it. So I know he likes stories too, but I just can't seem to get him to read them on his own. He always has a reason for not reading it: he doesn't like the cover, he doesn't want to read a book about imaginary friends, he already tried a chapter and it was boring, etc.

His birthday was earlier this month, and usually I love choosing which books to give my kids as presents, but this was a struggle. I didn't know if I dared give him a chapter book or if I should stick with something safe. But then I remembered Encyclopedia Brown, and I thought, if I was careful, I could maybe present it in a way that would hook him.

I gave him the first four books in the series but didn't push him to start one on his own. Instead, I just asked if we could read the first one as our next readaloud. He happily agreed . . . he loves being read to.

Encyclopedia Brown's father is the chief of police in Idaville. Anytime he comes up against a case that is too difficult to solve, he shares it with Encyclopedia, who usually picks up on a hidden clue and cracks it without much difficulty. He's so good at solving cases that he starts his own detective agency. The book is a series of standalone cases, but the cool thing is that each one ends just as Encyclopedia Brown solves the case but before he divulges how he did it. The reader is left with a question: "How did Encyclopedia know that?" or "What was Miss Stark's mistake?" The answers are at the back of the book.

My kids loved this format. It really encouraged them to pay attention to details, and by the end of the book, we were getting pretty good at spotting people's inconsistencies or slips of the tongue. Even though each case was totally self-contained, my kids begged for "just one more" every single time. The unknown was so tempting: maybe this time they would be as smart and observant as Encyclopedia.

I think the trickiest case for us was the one about Merko's grandson because of the way the story was worded. It took quite a bit of sorting and unpacking, and even then we didn't figure it out completely.  One of my favorite moments was in the case about the bank robbery. Chief Brown told Encyclopedia all about the robbery while the Brown family was eating dinner. Encyclopedia asked questions, and then Chief Brown asked, "Have you got an idea about this case?" When Encyclopedia Brown answered that no, he hadn't, Mrs. Brown looked hurt: "She had come to expect her son to solve a case before dessert."

But the real triumph for me happened after we finished the book. Maxwell took it to his room and started rereading it right then. And since that time, he has read the second one, too, without any encouragement from me. I think I maybe found something he likes!

Now if I can just hold back on my enthusiasm and pretend like I don't care . . .

Any other suggestions for series that will win over an obstinate and opinionated six-year-old? Stay tuned because, on Wednesday, I'll be sharing another book I tricked Maxwell into reading (and liking!)

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