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Name : The Great Brain Book
Author: John D. Fitzgerald
Best Place to Buy: www.amazon.com
Reading level: 8 and up
Publisher : Puffin Books
Publication Date : February 9, 2004
What It Is
This is a series of children’s books by American author John Dennis Fitzgerald (1906–1988).
Set in the small town of Adenville, Utah , between 1896 and 1898, the stories are loosely based on Fitzgerald’s childhood experiences.
Chronicled by the first-person voice of John Dennis Fitzgerald, the stories mainly center on the escapades of John’s mischievous older brother, Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. “The Great Brain”. The Great Brain was made into a movie released in 1978 , with the main character played by Jimmy Osmond .
John Dennis Fitzgerald (February 3, 1906 – May 21, 1988) was an American author.
Fitzgerald was born in Price , Utah , the son of an
Irish Catholic father and a Scandinavian Mormon mother.
He left Utah in 1925, at the age of 18, and held a variety of jobs, including playing in a
jazz band, working at a bank and working for a steel company.
Fitzgerald published his first novel, Papa Married a Mormon , in 1955. Other novels for adults about late nineteenth and early twentieth century Utah followed. Fitzgerald had many stories published in magazines , and he also co-wrote two textbooks about creative writing.
In the 1960s, he turned his attention to books for children, writing the highly successful The Great Brain series, in which his characters are loosely based on characters from his own family and community, including himself.
The Great Brain is based on his brother, Tom Fitzgerald (1902-1988). Fitzgerald changed many family details in the Great Brain series.
He omitted his oldest sibling Isabelle and his younger brothers Charles and Gerald, gave his older brother William the name Sweyn, and invented a family custom of giving sons the middle name Dennis (his older brothers were William J. and Thomas N., not Sweyn D. and Tom D.)
The novels are structured like a collection of
short stories, in which Tom either swindles people and then rationalizes it by claiming it was to teach them a lesson, or solves an important problem for the community.
What The Book Talks About
John Dennis Fitzgerald is telling the story of his childhood.n
He grew up in Adenville, Utah with his brothers Tom Dennis and Sweyn Dennis, his Aunt Bertha, and his parents.
His brother Tom Dennis (or T.D. as they called him) always had smart ideas to swindle people or bright ideas to make money.
Because of that everybody called him The Great Brain and he loved every minute of it. This book tells the story of all of The Great Brain’s schemes and adventures.
When Fred Harvey the plumber comes in to the Fitzgerald backyard to install a water closet (a toilet inside of a home) T.D. finds a way to make money out of it or when his mother starts to make ice cream he charges kids a penny to get some.
When Frank and Allen Jensen and their dog, Lady, get lost in a cave T.D. has an idea that is sure to get them out! Or when T.D. decides to mate his dog, Brownie, and his friend’s dog, Lady, he starts selling the puppies for one whole silver dollar! When Basil, a Greek boy, comes to town T. D. teaches him how to fight the other kids so he loses the nickname, wimp.
The best thing he thought he did was helping poor Andy (a boy with a peg leg). He taught him how to run, and do his chores for nothing in return.
If he wouldn’t have helped, Andy would have committed suicide. T.D. even helped get rid of the new mean teacher, Mr. Standish. Mr. Standish had replaced old Miss Thatcher – an old school teacher who was the best! T.D. got help from the other kids as they put whiskey bottles in Mr. Standish’s desk and in his coat pocket.
He was fired, but then they all told the truth. For that T.D. got the silent treatment from his parents, but he still had his “pals” to count on and a brain full of ideas to solve other people’s problems and make money!
Characters of the book include
The Fitzgerald family members include:
John Dennis Fitzgerald (J.D.) – the narrator of the series, and youngest of the three brothers.
Tom Dennis Fitzgerald Junior (T.D.) – the mischievous middle brother and swindler extraordinaire. His nickname is “The Great Brain”, and his escapades form the basis for the series. Throughout the series, Tom demonstrates that he possesses great intelligence and a money-loving heart, but at times, he also demonstrates great humanity and generosity.
Sweyn Dennis Fitzgerald (S.D.) – the eldest brother; eventually departs for Pennsylvania to live with relatives so that he can attend high school.
Frankie Pennyworth – An unconscious boy rescued by Uncle Mark after a rock slide kills his brother and parents. When he first arrives, he has a mental block stemming from this trauma, in which he lashes out violently at the Fitzgeralds. John reflects that his name should be “Frankenstein Dollar worth”, because, he says, Frankie is “a monster and a dollar’s worth of trouble” , and a battle of wills ensues when John is promised a large sum of money to try to tame Frankie, but only if his parents do not need to take Frankie to a doctor in Salt Lake City.
Thomas Dennis Fitzgerald Senior (“Papa” or “Fitz”) – patriarch of the family. Owner, editor, and publisher of the town paper, the
“Adenville Weekly Advocate” . He is an Irish Catholic originally from the Eastern United States who headed west to seek his fortune as a newspaper writer and publisher. He is one of Adenville’s leading citizens, and highly respected amongst the residents as he is the only citizen of Adenville to hold a university diploma.
Tena (“Mama”) Fitzgerald – The matriarch of the family and homemaker, of Danish –
Aunt Bertha – A Protestant widow who works as the family’s maid, not actually a blood relative but still called “aunt” because she has been considered a part of their family.
Uncle Mark – the town marshal, who is the uncle of John and the one who discovered the landslide that killed the Pennyworth family and rescued an unconscious Frankie.
Aunt Cathie – Mark’s wife and Papa’s sister, who considers adopting Frankie due to the fact she and Mark are childless on account of an earlier miscarriage. Ultimately she and Mark adopt two orphans, boy and girl.
All the Fitzgerald men have the middle name of Dennis, a reminder of the “Fitzgerald Curse”, put upon the family because an ancestor named Dennis helped the British during the Revolutionary War. His father decreed that all male Fitzgeralds should have Dennis as their middle name to remind them of his son’s loyalty to the Crown. In reality, the author had an older sister, Belle Empey (nee Fitzgerald).
In addition, his brother “Sweyn” doesn’t have that name; the real John’s two elder brothers were named William and Tom, and he had two younger brothers, Gerald and Charles.  There was no record of his parents ever adopting any children.
Andy Anderson, a boy who loses his left leg to infection after receiving a cut from falling from a rope swing in an abandoned barn. Later he falls into severe depression over this and even considers suicide, until Tom convinces Andy he can still do chores and play.
Parley Benson, son of a bounty hunter and the envy of most of the other boys. He possesses his own coonskin cap, a Bowie knife , and his own repeating air rifle. Tom wins Parley’s air rifle in a bet about whether Tom can magnetize wood. After reading about
boomerangs in an encyclopedia and seeing an illustration of one in a dictionary, Tom fashions a boomerang from a stick, and after throwing it, holds up a magnet to make it appear the magnet is bringing it back. Losing his air rifle earns Parley the “worst whipping of his life” from his father. Another story has Tom betting who is braver by having both boys break curfew and meet at the entrance to the forbidden Skeleton Cave.
Dotty Blake, also known as “Britches Dottie”, a “tomboy” whom Tom teaches to read and write, and who is given dresses and taught to act like a conventional girl by Tom’s mother. Dottie beats up Sammy Leeds when he teases her.
Danny Forester, son of the town’s barber. Danny’s left eye always seems half-shut, except when he gets excited. Tom swindles Danny out of a quality baseball glove by betting on hypnotism, which earns Danny a whipping from his father.
Jimmy Gruber, a diabetic boy who dies in childhood, after his father steals Frankie’s rocking horse (named ‘Bullet’) as a present before Jimmy dies. When Frankie realizes the gravity of diabetes, he allows the Grubers to keep his expensive swing horse.
Eddie Huddle, Frankie’s best friend and son of the town blacksmith.
Frank and Allan Jensen, who are children of Scandanavian immigrants. Due to being unfamiliar with Adenville, they get lost with their dog Lady, whereas John recalls that “before any native boy and girl in Adenville was allowed to go outside unsupervised, they had to swear on the Bible to stay away from Skeleton Cave”. Their disappearance mobilizes the entire town into action to search the mammoth cave. Tom rescues the boys using his ‘great brain’.
Howard Kay, one of John’s best friends, who has “a round face like a pumpkin”. In the first book, John, wanting to get the mumps before Tom and Sweyn and expose them, sneaks into Howard’s bedroom when he is quarantined with mumps and begs him to breathe on him, which Howard does (albeit reluctantly). Later, Howard was reluctant to ride on Tom’s raft
Explorer when the river had turned muddy, which was a sign of a looming flood.
However, Tom pressured Howard by calling him “yellow bellied” if he backed out (and thus lose the five-cent admission). The subsequent flooding becomes a disastrous ride, nearly killing Howard. When John sees Uncle Mark and Parley Benson’s father attempting to revive Howard by feeding him whiskey, this sends John into shock, and he faints.
Basil Kokovinis, a Greek boy who recently immigrated to America. Upon his arrival in Adenville he has difficulty assimilating, until Tom takes the initiative to show Basil the ropes of being a bona fide American kid. He was originally named Vasillios, until his father anglicized his name to Basil, being the English equivalent.
Sammy Leeds, who is something of a bully. His father is bigoted and incites him to harass Basil, a newly arrived Greek immigrant, but is given his comeuppance when Tom encourages a lumberjack-style fight and Basil bests Sammy in wrestling, which the Greeks have excelled at.
Jimmy Peterson, another of John’s best friends, whose mother owns the local boarding house. Along with Danny Forester, Jimmy is swindled out of a baseball when Tom bets him, causing his mother to “give him a horsewhipping”. He is almost killed along with Howard Kay and Tom on Tom’s river raft the “Explorer” when a flood strikes. This incites anger in John as Tom put his friends’ lives in danger for a fast buck.
Polly Reagan, who becomes Tom’s girlfriend when he turns 13. She has a “great brain” as well, having tied Tom in the town spelling bee. John resents her dating Tom, as she has taken all of Tom’s attention to the detriment of playing with John and his friends.
Seth Smith, a local Mormon boy close to Tom’s age. He is friends with both Tom and John as he is too young to be included with the bigger kids. Seth’s father owned a vacant lot, which he allowed the kids to use in exchange for keeping it free of weeds and litter. As there are no baseball diamonds or playgrounds in Adenville, this is the usual site where the kids play baseball, scrub football, or other games such as run sheep run. John was given a pig by Seth in exchange for a sought-after toy, only for John’s mother to screech she will not have any pig breeding on the Fitzgerald land.
Herbie Sties, a fat poet whom Tom sets out to reform out of his eating habits.
Harold Vickers, son of the district attorney. Harold is 16 making him older than the other kids. He knows a great deal about the law and plans to become a lawyer when he is older. He is chosen by John to act as the judge at a trial for Tom set in the Fitzgerald barn. During the trial, Tom is charged with being a confidence man, swindler, and a crook by all of the kids in Adenville who were victims of Tom and his Great Brain. As this trial occurred soon after the disastrous river rafting, Tom is also accused of being negligent toward Jimmy Peterson and Howard Kay.
Marie Vinson, daughter of the Vinsons, a prominent family in Adenville. Sweyn is sweet on Marie, much to John and Tom’s chagrin. John refers to her as “that stuck-up Marie Vinson”. Sweyn later returns home from high school wearing fancy Eastern clothing which he shows off to Marie, causing further mortification for John and Tom.
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This is a great and interesting book! Its worth the read for young minds.
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