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The Great Brain

Summary


Author
: John D. Fitzgerald

Illustrator: Mercer Mayer

SummaryThe Great Brain is set in the 1890's in a fictional small town in Utah. The stories are based on the author's childhood experiences and are told from the perspective of seven-year-old J.D., who is in awe of his older brother, Tom, alias "The Great Brain." Tom likes to use his "great brain" for his own financial gain, but he also uses it to rescue boys lost in a cave, to help a Greek immigrant boy assimilate, and to renew an amputee's interest in living. 
1967 Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers 175 pp ISBN 0-440-43071-2

First in a series which includes:

  • More Adventures of the Great Brain

  • Me and My Little Brain

  • The Great Brain at the Academy

  • The Return of the Great Brain

  • The Great Brain Does it Again

Reading  Level:  ages 9-12

Reviewed by: Derri Smith, July 2006

Our Angle
Our Angle


The Great Brain
is wonderfully written, sometimes hilariously funny, and gives a well-seasoned look at life in rural Utah in the 1890's. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

It does, however, have numerous cautionary aspects for parents to consider for children. Tom is greedy, and he takes advantage of others, including his little brother, in unethical ways. He does reform in the end, is not malicious, and one gets the feeling that he is a good boy at the core. Most parents would not, however, want their children to mimic many of Tom's actions.

Some situations might be intense for young readers. The death of a Jewish man from malnutrition was hard for this adult to read, and the chapter in which two boys are presumed hopelessly lost in a cave might be unsettling. The chapter in which J.D. attempts to help Andy kill himself was quite disturbing. I knew this was based on a true story, and I kept thinking that J.D. could have easily actually killed his friend. Parents will also want to consider whether they want their children reading about ways in which children might commit suicide.

Overall, this is a satisfying book. Parents are wise and revered, even if occasionally left in the dark about their children's antics. Townspeople are involved in each other's lives, even if they can be occasionally annoying in doing so. Some scenes, like the public unveiling of the town's first water closet (toilet) are very funny, as is the view of Tom through his adoring and naive little brother's eyes. It is a book our family enjoyed, but may not be for everyone. 

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