Strange But True by Donald J. Sobol
They say the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. And that’s definitely the case with my son. He inherited my goofy sense of humor, my love of sci-fi and horror movies, my passion for video games, and of course, my interest in the paranormal. As soon as he could start reading, I began looking for paranormal books for him, and one of the first ones I gave him was Strange But True: 22 Amazing Stories by Donald J. Sobol. If his name looks familiar, it should – he was the author of the iconic Encyclopedia Brown books, as well as Two-Minute Mysteries and a number of other titles. Strange But True is a rare non-fiction offering from Sobol, and a children’s compendium of tales that are, well, strange but true.
Strange But True has 22 accounts of all manner of unexplained mysteries, and includes some of my favorite stories. In “The Night Thing,” Sobol discusses the infamous “Devil’s Footprints” that were discovered in the snow of Devonshire, England, in 1885. The footprints went on for miles, crosses wide rivers, and bounded across rooftops and through cemeteries. “The Piri Re’is Map” details a strange ancient map of the world that was oddly accurate, but especially because it got details correct about Antarctica, long before the land under the snow had been discovered and mapped. And even though this is a children’s book and Sobol handled the subject tactfully and with respect for his readers, the chapter here on Jack the Ripper is what started me on my path to being an armchair Ripperologist.
There’s lots of other cool stories in here as well. “The Holdout” recounts how Shoichi Yokoi, a sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, had survived on Guam long past the war, and didn’t even realize the war was over until he was found and brought back to civilization in 1972. In another survival story, 23-year old stewardess Vesna Vulovic, fell six miles to earth after the plane she was on suffered an explosion, throwing her out of the aircraft, which itself eventually crashed. Vesna survived, but had no memory of her fall. Vessels navigating without their crew, such as the whaleship Herald and the blimp L-8. eerily returned from their respective journeys without their crew, but also without meeting disaster. And the famous case of the bizarre coincidences between Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy is here too.
And honestly, no book on strange mysteries would be complete without a few cryptids. Here, we get chapters on the abominable snowman, as well as the Loch Ness monster. And spooky, ghostly entries such as “The Tumbling Dead,” “The Girl on the Train,” and “The Elevator Operator” will be sure to scratch any child’s paranormal itch.
Make no mistake, this is a children’s book, written by a children’s author. The entries are short, usually topping out at about 3 or 4 pages, and the entire book is only 96 pages, an easy read for even younger kids. The language is easily accessible to kids, appropriately scary without being terrifying or graphic. And there are a good number of creepy illustrations throughout. On interesting thing I noted, perhaps to be chalked up to the Mandela Effect (or some similar phenomenon) – my memories of this book go back to when I was a young child. I seem to remember ordering it from our Scholastic book fair in school, and reading it probably in the third of fourth grade. But in checking the print date of this book, everything I’m seeing states it was published in 1989. When I would have been 15. Now, at 15, I was reading classics from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Miller, and Shakespeare, as well as contemporary stuff from Stephen King and Anne Rice. I was in a heavy metal band. This seems an oddly childish book for me to pick up at age 15 or 16. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me. Perhaps my voracious appetite for anything unexplained forced my hand and made me purchase this. Or maybe in some alternate universe, this book came out in 1980, not 1989…
Either way, the book is still available to purchase on Amazon, and if you have young kids who need a good introduction to our weird world, this book is a great way to go.