The Great Brain Series
post written by Emma Filbrun
Title: The Great Brain Series
Author: John D. Fitzgerald
Series: The Great Brain series
Major Themes: Utah, Gambling, Family Read-Alouds, Historical Fiction, US History 1900-1950, Books for Boys
Synopsis: John D tells story after story about how his brother Tom, the Great Brain, swindled him and every other boy in town.
Book 2, More Adventures of the Great Brain:
After we read the first book and discovered that it is the beginning of a series, the boys wanted to hear More Adventures of the Great Brain. At the end of the first book, the Great Brain reformed and stopped conning people out of the things he wanted. How long would that reformation last? Just long enough to get what he wanted from his parents! Soon he was back to his old tricks. One act of his terrorized the entire town; another scheme, though it solved a crime, hurt many people’s feelings. Then there was the time Tom, the Great Brain, was assigned the task of taming a wild young girl…and the time Papa got lost in the mountains and was afraid he and the boys would have to stay out there for years…and to top off the book, Tom investigated the Ghost of Silverlode! All the way through the book, John, or JD, the younger brother who narrates the stories, was being swindled by his brother. Surely, he learned enough from all those experiences that he could take his older brother’s place—right?
WARNINGS: Chapter 1 sure as heck, other kids will swear, “Good Lord”. Chapter 2 Tom lies, gosh is used twice, dumb-dumb. Chapter 3 darn, in the name of Jupiter, for gosh sakes, lying, in the name of Jupiter, gosh. Chapter 4 holy toledo. Chapter 6 Children investigate and believe in the Ghost of Silverlode, heck, in the name of Jupiter twice
Book 3, Me and My Little Brain:
The third book is titled Me and My Little Brain. Sweyn and Tom have now gone off to boarding school in Salt Lake City, and John, the youngest brother, is the only child at home with his parents in Adenville. With Tom, aka The Great Brain, out of the way, JD sees a way to make his fortune. Since he has been swindled all his life by his big brother, he knows how to swindle his friends—or does he? Papa encourages him to just be himself, so he tries that. We really ended up liking this book. There is a really heart-warming story woven through it. There were a few scenes we didn’t like, but overall, this is my favorite so far in the series.
WARNINGS: Chapter 1 darn twice, by jingo, sure as heck three times. Chapter 2 story is told of how a man blew himself up, sure as heck, darn. Chapter 3 heck twice. Chapter 5 I’m darned, looked so darn smug, boys fight, JD tells a ghost story. Chapter 6 describes a gun battle with outlaws, heck. Chapter 7 damn dog, damn, doors squeak like the devil, right spunky little devil. Chapter 8 what in the hell, men discuss how to kill an outlaw.
Book 4, The Great Brain at the Academy:
Book 4, The Great Brain at the Academy, is the tale of Tom’s first year at the Academy in Salt Lake City. This was a Catholic boarding school, run by Jesuit priests. Tom sent letters back home to JD, who patched together the whole story of what happened by reading the letters and listening to what Sweyn had to say about his side of things. Tom continued to be his old conniving self, starting on the train ride going to school, when he exposed a card shark and got to ride in the locomotive. He got off to a bad start at the Academy—but that didn’t stop him from finding every way possible to turn a profit! Candy was banned, so he started a candy store. He also sent a letter to the Pope and worked out how two showmen read each other’s minds. There were many funny stories—but we kept hoping that Tom would get his comeuppance. He didn’t—but he did get out of trouble a couple of times simply by being honest.
WARNINGS: Ch 1 heck twice. Ch 2 sure as heck 3 times, heck no 2 times, darn. Ch 4 sure as heck 2 times. Ch 6 heck no, darn. Ch 7 sure as heck twice. Ch 8 darn, sure as heck 3 times, swearing an oath. Ch 9 sure as heck
Book 5, The Great Brain Reforms:
Book 5, The Great Brain Reforms, describes Tom’s summer back at home in Adenville after his first year at the Academy. He immediately went back to his career of obtaining all the possessions he wanted from his friends and brothers, whether by betting on them or blackmailing them into giving him their things. As the summer went on, John saw more and more clearly what kind of a person his brother was—but Tom could always smoothly talk himself out of anything, so what could John do? Then, when Tom nearly murdered two of John’s friends, things came to a head.
WARNINGS: Chapter 1: sure as heck twice, pretty darn good catcher, why in the heck. Chapter 2: what in the heck, sure as heck twice, you know darn well, gosh, knows darn well. Chapter 3: knew darn well, gee whiz. Chapter 4: too darn selfish, giving him a heck of a fight, what in the heck, sure as heck, darn it. Chapter 5: one devil of a time, heck no. Chapter 6: sure as heck. Chapter 7: sure as heck. Chapter 8: sure as heck four times, pretty darn clever. Chapter 9: to heck with you, gosh, heck no, pretty darn pale, sure as heck, made darn sure, you damn better well reform. Chapter 10: pretty darn sure. Chapter 10: pretty darn sure, sure as heck twice
Book 6, The Return of the Great Brain:
In Book 6, The Return of the Great Brain, Tom is on his best behavior. He knows that if he swindles his friends they will refuse to play with him for a year, so there are no swindles. At least, no swindles that can be proven to be a swindle! He even does a service to the community by solving a train robbery and murder. However, when Tom decides he needs some money, he shows his true colors again—and again, JD is unable to tell his parents what is going on. And then, finally, JD realizes the truth about his brother….
WARNINGS: Chapter 1: heck no, sure as heck. Chapter 2: sure as heck twice, know darn well. Chapter 3: train robbery and murder, would know darn well, sure as heck. Chapter 4: damn good theory, that damn scar, sure as heck. Chapter 5: heck no. Chapter 6: which was darn good, pretty darn soon, heck no, you know darn well, sure as heck twice, knew darn well twice. Chapter 7: heck of a lot of kids, heck no. Chapter 8: sure as heck, millions of years, to heck with it.
Book 7, The Great Brain Does it Again:
Book 7, The Great Brain Does it Again, takes place during the months before Tom’s 13th birthday. He is up to his old tricks. He figures out a way to get his friends to dig the garden for him, wins a fortune on horse racing, and builds the most amazing fun ride any children in Adenville ever heard of! He also finds his little brother’s stolen rocking horse and uncovers a scandal. However, he fails at one task he sets himself—and then he turns 13 and JD is completely disgusted at what happens to a boy who turns that age.
WARNINGS: Chapter 1: heck no twice, darn good twice, sure as heck, a darn thing. Chapter 2: know darn well. Chapter 3: heck no twice. Chapter 4: to heck with it, know darn well, Tom tells a lie. Chapter 5: to heck with it. Chapter 6: these poor devils. Chapter 7: heck no, swearing on the Bible, sure as heck, so darned scared, a darn fool, boy pretending to be a devil. Chapter 8: heck no, sure as heck, so darn dull, kissing girls.
We were not able to find a copy of book 8, much to my boys’ disappointment. They have thoroughly enjoyed this series, despite the fact that they are quite disgusted with Tom. They have certainly learned, from these stories, what gambling is and why it isn’t wise. They were wishing, all the way through, that JD would someday learn to see through Tom and not fall for his schemes, and that Tom would get his comeuppance. Now, are these stories worthwhile? I believe they are, if there is enough discussion about them. They clearly illustrate what happens when a person loves money and allows that love to take over his life. The addiction of gambling is also illustrated. Use your own discretion as to whether your children should have these books. I’m not sure I would have wanted mine reading them for themselves; since we read them aloud, we could discuss the scenarios as they came up.
WARNING: See warnings with each title.
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, 10 – 13
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15
Keywords: Utah, Gambling, Family Read-Alouds, Historical Fiction, US History 1900-1950, Books for Boys