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The Great Brain

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The best con man in the Midwest is only ten years old. Tom, a.k.a., the Great Brain, is a silver-tongued genius with a knack for turning a profit. When the Jenkins boys get lost in Skeleton Cave, the Great Brain saves the day. Whether it's saving the kids at school, or helping out Peg-leg Andy, or Basil, the new kid at school, the Great Brain always manages to come out on The best con man in the Midwest is only ten years old. Tom, a.k.a., the Great Brain, is a silver-tongued genius with a knack for turning a profit. When the Jenkins boys get lost in Skeleton Cave, the Great Brain saves the day. Whether it's saving the kids at school, or helping out Peg-leg Andy, or Basil, the new kid at school, the Great Brain always manages to come out on top—and line his pockets in the process.


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The best con man in the Midwest is only ten years old. Tom, a.k.a., the Great Brain, is a silver-tongued genius with a knack for turning a profit. When the Jenkins boys get lost in Skeleton Cave, the Great Brain saves the day. Whether it's saving the kids at school, or helping out Peg-leg Andy, or Basil, the new kid at school, the Great Brain always manages to come out on The best con man in the Midwest is only ten years old. Tom, a.k.a., the Great Brain, is a silver-tongued genius with a knack for turning a profit. When the Jenkins boys get lost in Skeleton Cave, the Great Brain saves the day. Whether it's saving the kids at school, or helping out Peg-leg Andy, or Basil, the new kid at school, the Great Brain always manages to come out on top—and line his pockets in the process.

30 review for The Great Brain

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    I've read a lot of books to my son. A lot. The Hobbit, all three books of The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia books, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, six or seven of the original Doctor Dolittle books, several Three Investigators books, and far more. And he's loved almost all of them (I selected them carefully, from the books I loved best as I child and teen). But so far, I think he loves the Great Brain series best. Partly, I think that because they're so accessible. John D. Fitzgerald writ I've read a lot of books to my son. A lot. The Hobbit, all three books of The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia books, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, six or seven of the original Doctor Dolittle books, several Three Investigators books, and far more. And he's loved almost all of them (I selected them carefully, from the books I loved best as I child and teen). But so far, I think he loves the Great Brain series best. Partly, I think that because they're so accessible. John D. Fitzgerald writes about his semi-fictionalized younger self in the true voice of a child - and that's quite an accomplishment. When his brother insults the father of a friend, the young John D. tells us that he has visions of that man coming down the street after them with a butcher knife. That's not the sort of language that most modern publishers allow in books for children, I believe, but it's how children think - some of the time. And over and over, as I was reading The Great Brain to my son, he'd stop me and ask me if the book really said what I'd just read. You see, I sometimes can't resist adding a humorous comment or line now and then in some books - always, however, immediately admitting that the book didn't really say that. For this book I didn't add a word - but many of the passages in the book were so funny that my son suspected that I'd added them. I had to show him the lines in the book to convince him! He pretty much had a huge grin on his face the whole time that I was reading. When I'd finish a chapter, he'd hold my arm and beg for another one. I can't think of higher praise for a book for children. Each chapter in this book is a self-contained story, written in a beautifully straightforward style that some have compared to that of Mark Twain. John D. Fitzgerald (the author, as you'll note) chronicles his childhood as the younger brother of the infamous Great Brain, the greatest kid swindler in town. He is, of course, frequently the victim of the Great Brain. In fact the Great Brain is pretty much a complete jerk, as we all noticed fairly quickly. But the stories are so entertaining that it doesn't matter. A warning: the original edition and most later reissues are perfectly illustrated by Mercer Meyer. For some insane and inexplicable reason, there are a few editions out there that have been re-illustrated by other artists. This makes about as much sense as replacing the classic Tenniel illustrations in Alice In Wonderland (which has, of course, also been done. What were they thinking?). Another point: the story begins in 1896. Although the town has electricity and street lights, one of the stories features the installation of the first flush toilet in town. It's hysterical, but it's also a great opportunity to explain something about history to young children in a way that they'll enjoy and remember. All in all, a deeply enjoyable classic.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie

    Okay, what Miniscule Brain at Dell Yearling authorized the AWFUL, anachronistic covers for the 1970s reprints of these books? I'm sorry, but it's Mercer Mayer's original drawings or NOTHING, in my opinion. If you are unlucky enough to own the 1970s Dell Yearling reprints with their Little Rascals-esque cover art, you have my profound pity. The good news is that Mayer's classic, gorgeous, marvelous drawings are still included inside the books. Fitzgerald alone is great, but Fitzgerald with Mayer? Okay, what Miniscule Brain at Dell Yearling authorized the AWFUL, anachronistic covers for the 1970s reprints of these books? I'm sorry, but it's Mercer Mayer's original drawings or NOTHING, in my opinion. If you are unlucky enough to own the 1970s Dell Yearling reprints with their Little Rascals-esque cover art, you have my profound pity. The good news is that Mayer's classic, gorgeous, marvelous drawings are still included inside the books. Fitzgerald alone is great, but Fitzgerald with Mayer? It's like cherries with cheesecake, hot dogs with cheese, ice cream with Oreo cookies. I mean, what's the point of eating them alone, when together they give you so much pleasure? You'll never be able to read Fitzgerald without Mayer, after you've read them together. Anyway, big gripe I've had for YEARS. I started reading these in fourth grade after my teacher read "The Great Brain" to us in class. They are an absolute HOOT. Very good reading that adults and children will enjoy equally, and which gives an insight into some of the diversity that actually does exist in Utah, which is forgotten completely in most other Mormon and even non-Mormon fiction books based in Utah. J. D.'s small town contains people from all walks of life, including Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Protestants, and others. Ethnicity is also portrayed as diverse -- J. D.'s own family is Danish-Irish, and one of his brothers has the unlikely name of Sweyn (Danish) Fitzgerald (Irish). Basil (Vasillios), a Greek boy, becomes a major character in later books. Disablity is also discussed. In one of the books, Tom and J. D. play with a little boy who has lost his leg. Britches Dotty, one of the few female characters, ultimately is persuaded to wear dresses rather than britches, but she's such a great character, the feminist in me doesn't care. So, so good. Many excellent lessons taught in a hysterical way. Why are you sitting here, reading this, when you could be reading these books? Rated PG for peril -- fistfights, name-calling, and such happen regularly. In Me and My Little Brain, an outlaw captures Frankie and points a gun at his head. Also, keep in mind that Tom is a pint-sized con man, so there is a certain amount of lying, deception, and rule-breaking that happen in the books. Also, the adults in the book sometimes drink alcohol, but not to excess. I would say kids would need to be in second or third grade and up in order to understand and enjoy these books.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    A solid, wonderful children's book with the spirit of Tom Sawyer. I highly enjoyed this one. A solid, wonderful children's book with the spirit of Tom Sawyer. I highly enjoyed this one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Yusra ✨

    adding this because goodreads recommended I read it after Caraval... and how could I ever refuse a goodreads recommendation? how?? adding this because goodreads recommended I read it after Caraval... and how could I ever refuse a goodreads recommendation? how??

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shala Howell

    What The Five-Year-Old Thought: "I can't explain why I liked it except that JD is telling the story. Tom is the one with the Great Brain and he rescued a few guys." What Mommyo thought: My husband is in the process of reading this to our 5YO. Both are really enjoying it (true confessions -- my husband read this as a child, so his enjoyment may be partly nostalgia). When they got to the bit about making homemade ice cream, The 5YO said: “Daddyo, I want to jump into the book right that second.” You What The Five-Year-Old Thought: "I can't explain why I liked it except that JD is telling the story. Tom is the one with the Great Brain and he rescued a few guys." What Mommyo thought: My husband is in the process of reading this to our 5YO. Both are really enjoying it (true confessions -- my husband read this as a child, so his enjoyment may be partly nostalgia). When they got to the bit about making homemade ice cream, The 5YO said: “Daddyo, I want to jump into the book right that second.” You should definitely try this one at your house. :) Update -- Potential Spoiler Alert & Parental Warning: Last night we got to the part where one of the characters dies. It's a very tough chapter. My husband who was reading it, skimmed over it, because The Five-Year-Old wasn't in a good place to deal with the sadness or the reasons for the death (she was having a tough night already). I mention it because you may want to read this book before sharing it with your children, so that you'll be prepared for the questions they'll have about some of the tough subjects it raises. Also, the attitudes toward Native Americans are not, shall we say, in line with current thinking. You'll want to be prepared to deal with questions stemming from that -- or to simply address it head on while your child is reading this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Afton Nelson

    My modern day sensitivities got in the way again when, in the last chapter of this book I read out loud to my boys, I started reading about peg leg Andy who wanted to commit suicide because he was plumb useless. Our dear narrator, little J.D. was just the type of pal to help him out too. I continued to read about the different ideas the boys came up with to do in Andy, and tried to figure out what I could make up to pretend the story was over and get out of reading the last 10 or so pages of the My modern day sensitivities got in the way again when, in the last chapter of this book I read out loud to my boys, I started reading about peg leg Andy who wanted to commit suicide because he was plumb useless. Our dear narrator, little J.D. was just the type of pal to help him out too. I continued to read about the different ideas the boys came up with to do in Andy, and tried to figure out what I could make up to pretend the story was over and get out of reading the last 10 or so pages of the book. I talked to my boys about what would happen if JD and Andy succeeded and the consequences that JD would have to live with, and how these boys were not thinking things through and decided to keep reading. I am glad I did because the last few pages of this book were the best ones yet. Overall, my boys loved this book and it made a fun read aloud. The story of a boy growing up with his two older brothers, one who had a knack for solving problems with his Great Brain. Set in a time when boys had lots of chores, played games with nothing more than sticks, rocks and an old can, respected their elders, explored old caves, got measles and the mumps, could lose a leg from stepping on a rusty nail and settled disputes with a fist fight or wrestle.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Note: The following is a review of the entire Great Brain series The Great Brain is perhaps one of the finest American children's books ever written—as are its companions in the Great Brain series. Reading this series in recent years has in some ways been akin to rereading Tom Sawyer as an adult, since what appeared as high-adventure to me as a fifth grader I now read through a Twainian lens of chuckles and nostalgia. John D. Fitzgerald was raised in Price, Utah, and based the Great Brain series Note: The following is a review of the entire Great Brain series The Great Brain is perhaps one of the finest American children's books ever written—as are its companions in the Great Brain series. Reading this series in recent years has in some ways been akin to rereading Tom Sawyer as an adult, since what appeared as high-adventure to me as a fifth grader I now read through a Twainian lens of chuckles and nostalgia. John D. Fitzgerald was raised in Price, Utah, and based the Great Brain series on the childhood antics of his super-smart, flimflamming older brother, Tom. The books are written in the first-person voice of “J.D.” (based on the young John D. Fitzgerald). The stories take place in the fictional town of Adenville which I surmise is actually somewhere in southwestern Utah, roughly in the vicinity of Iron or Washington Counties (there are references to Cedar City and Shivwits Indians). However, the imprint of Price and eastern Utah is found often in this book, as the town is fairly divided between Mormons and people of other faiths, sports characters such as Basil Kokovinis, the son of Greek hotel operators as well as a run of Scandinavian Mormon kids such as Parley Jensen who wears a coon-skin cap. Adenville is a safe, tight-knit small town as well as a crossroads of rural industry leaving the reader with a sense that cattlemen, hustlers and wild-west entrepreneurs are often staying in town but are usually out of the sight of the youngsters. The central theme of the Great Brain series is the insecurities of childhood and the occasional blurring of the boundary between a warm and safe domestic world and the dangers of a mysterious adult world. As a kid, I read these books perceiving Tom as the protagonist and hero. As an adult, one realizes that while Tom is indeed J.D.'s begrudged hero, J.D. is the true protagonist and it is through his eyes that the stories are told. Like Twain, Fitzgerald’s greatest talent is bringing to life the fears and joys of childhood and reminding adults of what it was like to be a young. Unlike Tom Sawyer, these books are written on a fourth or fifth grade reading level and the characters harbor childlike feelings of warmth and trust toward parents and adult figures that are not as prevalent in characters like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. J.D.'s love for his parents is felt throughout the books and is not diminished by youthful, matter-of fact assessments of them. J.D.’s father can be clueless at times (when juxtaposed against his practical wife who often shows more common sense) and frequently purchases quack mail-order contraptions. But J.D.'s father is also presented as a paradigm of the responsible neighbor and townsman who avoids misjudging others. J.D.’s mother is a firm, loving woman who spends her time laboring in the kitchen alongside an aunt whose hands are “as big as a man’s”. Whenever a trip is taken, the father and boys invariably pull out lunches fixed by the mother, including chocolate cake, home-fried chicken, boiled eggs, sandwiches, pie…and the list goes on. If reading such passages does not make readers hungry, it may remind them of their own mothers as Fitzgerald shows us that cooking was one way his mother conveyed her love to her children. Adenville is an idyllic world of rural chores, hanging out at “Smith’s vacant lot” and playing checkers by the fireside. And yet there is also tragedy, like the rockslide death that orphans little “Frankie”, a boy later adopted by the Fitzgeralds. Other glimpses of pathos can be found in the books' various descriptions of a frontier pride that avoids asking for desperately needed help or the child whose best efforts are frequently misunderstood by adults. Like many children’s books and movies, a running theme is that of Tom’s outwitting adults and making them look like fools. And yet, Tom often ends up as the one in trouble and the town’s kids usually end up paying a price as well. Throughout the books, J.D. constantly berates himself for being a fool who falls for Tom’s schemes and seems to have an “I should have known” inferiority complex. Religion is also a theme in these books—though I was surprised at how much I missed it when I was younger. Perhaps that says something about a young reader and how he or she might interact with the young characters in the book. Even now when I read these books, it is apparent that the undercurrent of religious differences in Adenville is muted in the eyes of the youthful characters. The Fitzgeralds are a Catholic family (although the mother was raised as a Mormon) and worship at a community church except during infrequent visits from a priest. J.D. often speaks of Mormon honesty and tee totaling as givens in a town where Bishop Aden (after whom the town was named) is still a highly revered, living figure. Nonetheless, tug-a-rope teams at civic celebrations are divided between Mormon and Gentile kids and the two groups have occasional dust-ups. These books capture an age caught between the frontier and modernity, where the Mormon settlement has emerged as a functioning civic unit (although one still senses the watchful paternalism of Bishop Aden) and where budding technology and economic differentiation mix with chores such as watering the chickens. J.D.s father, one of the few educated men in town, is the local newspaper editor, and yet, like all of the other families, they have a small farm, including cows, chickens and a few horses. There are many striking scenes in this series, including the portrayal of "Abie Glassman", an itinerant Jewish merchant who is getting old and decides to settle in Adenville and open a store. Rumors circulate that Glassman is wealthy and has a chest full of gold. While J.D.'s mom occasionally sends him out to shop with Glassman, J.D. usually heads to the local Mormon co-op instead where he will get candy from the manager. Due to the town's prejudicial assumption that Glassman is a wealthy hoarder and Glassman's proud refusal to seek help, he literally starves to death. Though at times these stories encounter serious themes and real-life fears, the books' enduring themes are warmth, safety, and humor. Fitzgerald, who died in 1988, is the type of author I would have loved to have met in person, or to have heard him speak about his life and literary experiences. As a young person, I read his novel Papa Married a Mormon, but it did not enchant me as did the Great Brain series. Admittedly, that was probably because it was written for an adult audience and I was likely too young to properly appreciate it. (Perhaps sometime I ought to reread it.) Ultimately, I am grateful to Fitzgerald, who brought to life a small, turn of the century Mormon town and made its otherwise anonymous, youngest citizens larger than life. When it comes to children’s literature, subgenres will come and go. But I believe that as long as kids can find these books, they will be read and loved.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Trace

    I rated this 4 stars and my son rated it 5 stars so we're agreeing upon a 4.5 star rating. The entire time I read this book, I couldn't help but compare the unstructured childhood described in this book with today's highly structured children. The boys in this book experienced a freedom that is not found today.... sure they found themselves in hot water and made some lots of mistakes - but I loved reading about how they worked things out or learned their lessons by EXPERIENCING them.... There wo I rated this 4 stars and my son rated it 5 stars so we're agreeing upon a 4.5 star rating. The entire time I read this book, I couldn't help but compare the unstructured childhood described in this book with today's highly structured children. The boys in this book experienced a freedom that is not found today.... sure they found themselves in hot water and made some lots of mistakes - but I loved reading about how they worked things out or learned their lessons by EXPERIENCING them.... There would be very, very little tolerance in this day and age for many of the pranks described in this book... and I can't help but wonder if this is a good thing. My son adored this book.... I didn't think it was QUITE as funny as I had remembered from all those many years ago - but perhaps this is because I'm now reading it from the perspective of a parent and I find myself cringing just a little, even while chuckling.... Speaking of parents... this is the second book I read by John D. Fitzgerald and I just adore his parents and their parenting style.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Want to learn how to charge people to see a toilet flush? Need to learn to swim, or walk with a peg leg? Find your way out of a dangerous cave? Get rid of a strict teacher? Ask the Great Brain, Thomas "T.D." Fitzgerald. Set in the early days of Utah statehood (1896)in southern Utah, John "J.D." Fitzgerald recounts the amazing and mind blowing stunts and escapades of he and his brothers, among the minority of Catholics in a predominantly Mormon community. When the "Great Brain" puts his mind to w Want to learn how to charge people to see a toilet flush? Need to learn to swim, or walk with a peg leg? Find your way out of a dangerous cave? Get rid of a strict teacher? Ask the Great Brain, Thomas "T.D." Fitzgerald. Set in the early days of Utah statehood (1896)in southern Utah, John "J.D." Fitzgerald recounts the amazing and mind blowing stunts and escapades of he and his brothers, among the minority of Catholics in a predominantly Mormon community. When the "Great Brain" puts his mind to work, anything can happen!Ingenious and hilarious, a very good read!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Neocortext

    I got this book for my nephew, who's seven, after my sister told me he was reading chapter books now. Actually, it turns out he's not quite that advanced, but I figured he and his dad might enjoy reading these very funny books together anyway. When it arrived, I decided to reread a chapter or two to be sure it was as good as I remembered. It was--oh, it was. But it was also very, very different, much more complex in its portrayal of ethics than I realized when I ordered it and, I think, perhaps a I got this book for my nephew, who's seven, after my sister told me he was reading chapter books now. Actually, it turns out he's not quite that advanced, but I figured he and his dad might enjoy reading these very funny books together anyway. When it arrived, I decided to reread a chapter or two to be sure it was as good as I remembered. It was--oh, it was. But it was also very, very different, much more complex in its portrayal of ethics than I realized when I ordered it and, I think, perhaps a bit too complex--not for a kid, but for the grownups who might read it to him. The chapters have some rather questionable scenes that I think play out quite subtly, and in ways that I'm not sure our twenty-first century world can tolerate. And this made me think a bit about reading as a child. Much as I had quite a bit of independence as a kid (I'm 40 now), to roam through the fields, walk unaccompanied as a kindergartner though several neighborhoods to the babysitter's after school, or watch whatever I felt like once I graduated to latchkey status in the third grade, I had absolute freedom to read whatever I wanted as a kid. My parents loved the idea of books but weren't really readers themselves, and they certainly never delved very deeply into whatever book my nose was buried in at the time. So I read widely, and I probably read a number of things of which, had they known what was actually between the covers, they would not have approved. For that neglect, I shall be eternally grateful. Morality, compassion, and ethics are not slogans to be captured under headers like "gender" or "immigration"; tolerance isn't something practiced by silent, knowing looks; these are things best encountered in three dimensions, with fully-fleshed out conflicts that have no easily identified "right" or "wrong." Fitzgerald's characters do this quite well, with J.D. playing the role of the audience, vocalizing reservations and conventional, quick-to-judge platitudes while Tom, always eager to profit, literally, from whatever situation arises, finds a way to complicate J.D.'s judgements, and, thereby, ours. Moreover, Fitzgerald does so with a deft, light hand and real, gut-busting laughs. The incidents are funny and touching because they're so thoroughly realized in terms of their characters' failings as well as their abilities to rise to the challenges life presents them, even, sometimes, in spite of themselves. I think I will hang onto this one until I'm quite sure my nephew can read it for himself and, thus, judge it for himself.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    This is another one I remember from the past. I remember liking it as a kid. Read again just for nostalgia's sake. Not sure it holds up. Tom, the "Great Brain" was really just a little shyster, figuring out ways to turn a profit on everything he did - even those things he did as good deeds. This is another one I remember from the past. I remember liking it as a kid. Read again just for nostalgia's sake. Not sure it holds up. Tom, the "Great Brain" was really just a little shyster, figuring out ways to turn a profit on everything he did - even those things he did as good deeds.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I LOVED this book! I read this one to my children and we laughed through most of it and then I cried through the rest. One aspect that I really loved was how real it felt, like I was growing up right along side J.D. and Tom. I also loved the perspective of what it was like to grow up in a small Utah town and not be a Mormon. Being a Mormon myself, I had never really thought what it would be like to view of us from outside the religion. I thought it was done very fairly and many things were eyeop I LOVED this book! I read this one to my children and we laughed through most of it and then I cried through the rest. One aspect that I really loved was how real it felt, like I was growing up right along side J.D. and Tom. I also loved the perspective of what it was like to grow up in a small Utah town and not be a Mormon. Being a Mormon myself, I had never really thought what it would be like to view of us from outside the religion. I thought it was done very fairly and many things were eyeopening which I feel will help me be more aware and thoughtful of others having different believes than my own.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Camie

    An old children's classic told by ten year old JD about the simple and humorous boyhood adventures encountered while growing up in 1896 with his older beloved brother Tom, The Great Brain. Tom is the older brother everyone should have, even though he mostly uses his " great brain" to figure out a way to make every situation most profitable for himself, he usually lets his little brother tag along for the adventure and in the end... surprises everyone by also having a great heart. I think all my An old children's classic told by ten year old JD about the simple and humorous boyhood adventures encountered while growing up in 1896 with his older beloved brother Tom, The Great Brain. Tom is the older brother everyone should have, even though he mostly uses his " great brain" to figure out a way to make every situation most profitable for himself, he usually lets his little brother tag along for the adventure and in the end... surprises everyone by also having a great heart. I think all my age 30 something kids read this in their late elementary years, and my copy with the original Mercer Meyer illustrations is in-scripted with " Erin's favorite book in 4th grade. " Erin is my youngest daughter and in a few years, I'll pass it on to her daughter. A nostalgic read. 5 stars

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Hilarious! Note: Some scenes would be best with parent conversations and input for historical context and understanding...but even in those scenes there is little truly dark malice but a tone of levity and light and an understanding that all will work out. A great way for children to have conversations about topics that are current issues.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Janssen

    I LOVED this series as a child and re-reading it with my girls was just as fun as I hoped.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    I bought this one for my nephews out of nostalgia the other day, remembering having liked it as a kid. And so I thought I ought to reread it myself. It's not often one reads fiction set in 19th century Utah, and this is an interesting perspective from the Fitzgeralds--Sweyn, Tom and John--three Catholic boys who grew up circa 1896 in Utah's Dixie, in the small fictionalized Mormon town of Adenville (the author in fact was born and raised in Carbon County). What I did not remember was the narcissi I bought this one for my nephews out of nostalgia the other day, remembering having liked it as a kid. And so I thought I ought to reread it myself. It's not often one reads fiction set in 19th century Utah, and this is an interesting perspective from the Fitzgeralds--Sweyn, Tom and John--three Catholic boys who grew up circa 1896 in Utah's Dixie, in the small fictionalized Mormon town of Adenville (the author in fact was born and raised in Carbon County). What I did not remember was the narcissism of Tom Fitzgerald, the so-called "Great Brain," whose great brain frequently is credited both by himself and others as the source of invaluable problem solving and heroics at home, school and throughout the town. Tom devises ways to swindle local kids of their pennies, everything from charging commission for watching the installation of the town's first ever water closet in his home, to extracting silver dollars from a hunter in the neighborhood for each puppy bred of his brother John's pet dog, Brownie. Although John sometimes sees through Tom's antics, his brother always manages to smoothly manipulate allegiances and secure the oaths of others to preserve his position. The shenanigans seem harmless enough, except maybe when they rise to the level of framing the new school teacher, Mr. Standish, as a secret lush and having him terminated by the school board, or else John's trying to help out friend Andy Anderson to commit suicide for "being plumb useless" due to his peg leg. The storytelling is fun, and the tales are probably a fair depiction of a young boy's point of view growing up in the rugged west, centering on such concepts as honor and respect perhaps more common in that period of time. This is an enjoyable read and still holds its appeal after all these years.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alison LaMarr

    My husband and I took turns reading this to our 7.5-year-old son. I vaguely remember reading this when I was little and it was fun for me to revisit it and introduce it to the rest of my family. It is set in the early 1900s in a small, rural Utah town. There is no major plot but is instead mostly small, vignette type stories of boyhood experiences that the main character had with his older brother and their group of friends. I am sure that many of the stories are taken from the author’s own chil My husband and I took turns reading this to our 7.5-year-old son. I vaguely remember reading this when I was little and it was fun for me to revisit it and introduce it to the rest of my family. It is set in the early 1900s in a small, rural Utah town. There is no major plot but is instead mostly small, vignette type stories of boyhood experiences that the main character had with his older brother and their group of friends. I am sure that many of the stories are taken from the author’s own childhood. The “great brain” is the main character’s big brother and so the book is full of fun sibling rivalry as well as interesting tidbits about life in a turn-of-the-century town. My son and husband both found many of the predicaments funny and I often heard them laughing out loud when they were reading together. I think everyone is interested in reading the other ones in the series.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    2017: I think I will always love this book no matter how many times I read it. Full review here: http://www.sunlitpages.com/2017/05/th... 2009: I'm still chuckling over some of T.D.'s antics. The two stories I really remembered from my first reading were the mumps and the near-suicide, and I can see why they stuck with me so vividly...after reading it again, they're still the best ones. 2017: I think I will always love this book no matter how many times I read it. Full review here: http://www.sunlitpages.com/2017/05/th... 2009: I'm still chuckling over some of T.D.'s antics. The two stories I really remembered from my first reading were the mumps and the near-suicide, and I can see why they stuck with me so vividly...after reading it again, they're still the best ones.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Elsha

    I'm on a children's book kick. Liked this book as a child and enjoyed as an adult. The little incidents are funny yet it's frustrating to see the "Great Brain" manipulate the situations into his favor. The "Great Brain" probably turned out to be very rich and was already conniving. A good, fun read. I'm on a children's book kick. Liked this book as a child and enjoyed as an adult. The little incidents are funny yet it's frustrating to see the "Great Brain" manipulate the situations into his favor. The "Great Brain" probably turned out to be very rich and was already conniving. A good, fun read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    2011 This book was so funny. I think my favorite line was "my mom calls me hunnylips.". I actually LOL'ed several times in this book. Such fun stories, and great humor. Loved it!! 2020 Just re-read it again with my youngest. Funny, I never heard the line I mentioned above mentioned this time. But still a laugh out loud story. 2011 This book was so funny. I think my favorite line was "my mom calls me hunnylips.". I actually LOL'ed several times in this book. Such fun stories, and great humor. Loved it!! 2020 Just re-read it again with my youngest. Funny, I never heard the line I mentioned above mentioned this time. But still a laugh out loud story.

  21. 4 out of 5

    DoRena

    JD Fitzgerald knows how to tell a good story. I enjoyed these as a kid, but reading them aloud (now for the second time) as an adult I see that these fun childhood adventures handle some heavy topics and share thoughtful lessons for all ages.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Anita

    Parents: proceed with caution. When I reread this book as an adult I discovered that there is a chapter about an attempted suicide. It is supposed to funny (and it is), but if you have a vulnerable/sensitive child you may want to preview this chapter.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elevetha

    4 1\2 stars. Very funny. Excellent. 8+.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hobart

    This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader. --- Growing up, these stories about a pre-teen con artist in late 19th Century Utah were among my favorites. I remember stumbling on a box set at a Yard Sale after I'd read them from the Library a couple of times and just about wore out the set reading and re-reading them. Even then, I remember that I had problems with some of the characters, and recall that my favorite was always the narrator, John D., not the titular Great Brain himself, Tom This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader. --- Growing up, these stories about a pre-teen con artist in late 19th Century Utah were among my favorites. I remember stumbling on a box set at a Yard Sale after I'd read them from the Library a couple of times and just about wore out the set reading and re-reading them. Even then, I remember that I had problems with some of the characters, and recall that my favorite was always the narrator, John D., not the titular Great Brain himself, Tom D. About 10 years ago, I read the series to my kids, and enjoyed it (possibly more than they did), but not as much as I remembered. Still, when I saw it listed as a new addition to my library's catalog, I took a second glance and when I saw that Ron McLarty did the narration, I had to try it. This book is a series of episodes from over a year or so in the life of three brothers, Sweyn D., Tom D. and John D. Fitzgerald. Sweyn is around a little bit as the more mature eldest brother, John's the youngest (8 or 9, I believe) and Tom is 10 and the star. He's Greedy, conniving, and ambitious -- and his ego is bigger than the rest of his attributes combined. They live in a small, largely LDS, town in Utah during the last decade of the 1800s. The episodes feature different ways in which Tom's Great Brain works to make him money and/or notoriety in the community, especially with the kids. Some of these antics are silly, some are serious. Almost all of them are profitable for Tom. The strength of the stories is the humanity of the rest of the community -- the traveling Jewish merchant, the local farmers, the Greek immigrant family, for starters. The weakness comes from the very laissez-faire approach to parenting the Fitzgeralds take -- allowing Tom D. to pretty much get away with everything he wants. There is some charm, some heart, throughout -- even from Tom. That part appeals to me, the ego-driven greedy exploits of the Great Brain don't. John's narration occasionally will critique Tom's motives, but mostly John's a little brother thinking his big brother is fantastic no matter what. I know John becomes more disillusioned later, but for now, it was annoying. I want better for him. How's the narration you ask? Honestly, the chance to listen to Ron McLarty narrate was half the reason I had for grabbing this. McLarty will always be Sgt. Frank Belson to me, despite the many other things he's accomplished in life. He did a fine job, at times a great job. Something about him reading the contraction-less dialogue bugged the tar out of me. George Guidal can make it work when he reads Henry Standing Bear -- although it helps that no one else does it. McLarty can't make it work, probably because despite the fact that slang is used, time appropriate language -- but not a contraction from anyone? I don't lay the fault at McLarty's feet, it's just a prominent feature. I still recommend the books and enjoyed them. It's just a tempered enjoyment. I'll probably keep chipping away at the series over the next few months -- waiting to see John's disillusionment grow, and the brothers develop a conscience.

  25. 4 out of 5

    John

    In grade school back in the early 1970s, when most little boys are reading classics like Treasure Island or Jules Verne, my friend Aaron discovered THE GREAT BRAIN. How or why he ever picked it up is lost to legend, but he did and spent at least a year devouring the series while attempting to emulate T.D. I can honestly say that that summer playing with Aaron was super annoying. In part because he was always coming up with new schemes to defraud his friends, steal from his little brother, and try In grade school back in the early 1970s, when most little boys are reading classics like Treasure Island or Jules Verne, my friend Aaron discovered THE GREAT BRAIN. How or why he ever picked it up is lost to legend, but he did and spent at least a year devouring the series while attempting to emulate T.D. I can honestly say that that summer playing with Aaron was super annoying. In part because he was always coming up with new schemes to defraud his friends, steal from his little brother, and trying to craft get rich scams that failed miserably. Because, here is the thing about the Great Brain, he is a complete jerk. Like a real one. Where Tom Sawyer just wanted to be free of the adult world, fishing and romping and living the dream on a island with his buddies - Tom Fitzgerald is a slick confidence artist. His "great brain" is constantly working a long con, an angle, and his smooth talking flattery used only to dupe and soothe the wounds inflicted by his constant scheming. While most of T.D.'s nefarious plots turn out to be flops - requiring refunds to the kids who paid to see the first indoor toilet - he does almost successfully ruin a man's life. After figuring out a way to save some boys lost in a cave, The Great Brain sets his sights on a new teacher who paddled him. Framing him as a secret drinker and in the great Mormon State of Utah, that sin would get you fired and blacklisted. He selfishly helps out a new kid fit into American boy culture by teaching him how to fight. There is a weird two chapters about Abie Glassman, a travelling salesman that is encouraged to settle down and open a store. Abie dies of starvation. All the Xians feel terrible, but blame Abie's Jewish pride instead of admitting they ignored all the signs he was dying. All except The Great Brain he goes on a rant against his brother about how Tom saw the signs, always shopped at Abie's store, and was the only human being in a town of bigots. The book ends with a wonderful story about how Tom's sociopath tendencies are worn down through helping a younger boy deal with his amputated leg. Tom uses his Great Brain to figure out a way to help Andy do the chores, Indian Squaw wrestle, and run and play with the other boys. Tom is so moved by the feels he gets from helping Andy overcome the disability that the Great Brain, retires. Or at least he does into the next book...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Listening to books in the car is the only way we go these days. This book was full of fabulous tales of "The Great Brain" and John, the little brother. My kids and I were totally enthralled with the story until the last chapter. John decides to be a good friend and help another boy commit suicide. That is not a topic we have talked about in jest in our home, so I was a little startled by it, although my 9-year-old saw the humor in it. The 6-year-old was frightened. Luckily the great brain thinks Listening to books in the car is the only way we go these days. This book was full of fabulous tales of "The Great Brain" and John, the little brother. My kids and I were totally enthralled with the story until the last chapter. John decides to be a good friend and help another boy commit suicide. That is not a topic we have talked about in jest in our home, so I was a little startled by it, although my 9-year-old saw the humor in it. The 6-year-old was frightened. Luckily the great brain thinks of a creative way to help this friend move past his despair and be happy and grateful to be living his life. So I would recommend this book 5 stars for third grade and older, but 2 stars for younger. So I gave it 3.5 :)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brad Belschner

    This is my rating for the entire series, books 1-7, not just this particular book (btw, book 8 was written posthumously by a different author and is not worth reading). The Great Brain series is a family favorite for us. I read it to my boys aloud. The stories are based on real events from the author's childhood, and it shows. In addition to just being awesome stories, it's also a window into life in the American West during the 1890s. All sorts of gritty things. And I do mean gritty. I don't th This is my rating for the entire series, books 1-7, not just this particular book (btw, book 8 was written posthumously by a different author and is not worth reading). The Great Brain series is a family favorite for us. I read it to my boys aloud. The stories are based on real events from the author's childhood, and it shows. In addition to just being awesome stories, it's also a window into life in the American West during the 1890s. All sorts of gritty things. And I do mean gritty. I don't think I would want my little kids reading this without parental guidance, but with parental guidance it's great. This has inspired so many good conversations for us.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim Dennis

    This was fun. I hadn't read this book since I was in elementary. There was only one thing in it that I remembered. At the time, I hadn't read Tom Sawyer. As I was listening to this book, I couldn't help but feel that Tom Fitzgerald was very much like Tom Sawyer. I know the books were loosely based on John Fitzgerald's life, but given the fact that the book was set in 1896 and he wasn't even born until 1906, I wish I knew how much of it was real and how much of it was fictitious. I will probably This was fun. I hadn't read this book since I was in elementary. There was only one thing in it that I remembered. At the time, I hadn't read Tom Sawyer. As I was listening to this book, I couldn't help but feel that Tom Fitzgerald was very much like Tom Sawyer. I know the books were loosely based on John Fitzgerald's life, but given the fact that the book was set in 1896 and he wasn't even born until 1906, I wish I knew how much of it was real and how much of it was fictitious. I will probably continue with the other books at some point in time.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hillary

    My husband remembered his dad reading this book to him as a child, so I was excited to read it to the kids. We liked it and there were some really interesting stories/ adventures and some moving parts. However, we didn’t *love* it or eagerly reach to pick it up. Also, there was a chapter about a child who wants to take his own life and another tries to (unsuccessfully) help him. I chose to skip over that with my kids. We still read most of the chapter (it is the finale of the story with a great My husband remembered his dad reading this book to him as a child, so I was excited to read it to the kids. We liked it and there were some really interesting stories/ adventures and some moving parts. However, we didn’t *love* it or eagerly reach to pick it up. Also, there was a chapter about a child who wants to take his own life and another tries to (unsuccessfully) help him. I chose to skip over that with my kids. We still read most of the chapter (it is the finale of the story with a great message at the end!), but I left the suicide part out.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Denise Kettering

    As a kid, I read this series and found them hilarious. Upon revisiting them, I find that there are still funny parts, but they also deal with serious topics in ways that I didn't remember. There are stories about death, suicide, and a child losing a leg to gangrene. The language about Native Americans is somewhat challenging at times. The stories remain engaging and I would suspect would still appeal to many children. As a kid, I read this series and found them hilarious. Upon revisiting them, I find that there are still funny parts, but they also deal with serious topics in ways that I didn't remember. There are stories about death, suicide, and a child losing a leg to gangrene. The language about Native Americans is somewhat challenging at times. The stories remain engaging and I would suspect would still appeal to many children.

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