Peter's Reviews > The Great Brain

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
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Sep 12, 10

bookshelves: children, classic, favorite, fiction, history, read-to-my-son
Recommended for: any child, and any adult with a sense of humor
Read from August 27 to September 01, 2010 — I own a copy, read count: 8

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.
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David This is a great review and it maps my experience with my son almost exactly.


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