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The Great Brain

(The Great Brain #1)

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  16,344 ratings  ·  965 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 9th 2004 by Puffin Books (first published 1967)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
Rating details
 ·  16,344 ratings  ·  965 reviews

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Sep 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any child, and any adult with a sense of humor
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
Feb 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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? ...more
A solid, wonderful children's book with the spirit of Tom Sawyer. I highly enjoyed this one.
Yusra  ✨
May 02, 2018 marked it as to-read
adding this because goodreads recommended I read it after Caraval... and how could I ever refuse a goodreads recommendation? how??

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.”

Afton Nelson
Oct 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-grade
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 ...more
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
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
Mar 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing

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.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children, read-aloud, 2018
I LOVED this series as a child and re-reading it with my girls was just as fun as I hoped.
May 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: young-adult
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
Alison LaMarr
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kid-lit
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 ...more
Jun 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: children, 2009
2017: I think I will always love this book no matter how many times I read it. Full review here:

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.
Sep 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
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!!

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.
Dec 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Lisa Anita
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pretty much anyone
4 1\2 stars. Very funny. Excellent. 8+.
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
Sep 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Apr 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: listened-to, phineas
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 ...more
Brad Belschner
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Kim  Dennis
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Denise Kettering
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
At least three generations of children (and their parents) have come to love this series. Now I’m joining their ranks. True, the author sometimes paints an unfavorable picture of the “Mormons” of a hundred years ago, but the stories are so lighthearted and funny that you can overlook that point. I’m totally captivated.
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John Dennis Fitzgerald was born in Price, Utah, on February 3, 1906, to Thomas and Minnie Melsen Fitzgerald. His father had a pharmacy degree but engaged in a number of business ventures and served on the Price Town Council for four years. John graduated from Carbon High School and at the age of eighteen and left Utah to pursue a career as a jazz drummer. He wo

Other books in the series

The Great Brain (8 books)
  • More Adventures of the Great Brain (Great Brain, #2)
  • Me and My Little Brain (Great Brain, #3)
  • The Great Brain at the Academy (Great Brain, #4)
  • The Great Brain Reforms (Great Brain, #5)
  • The Return of the Great Brain (The Great Brain, #6)
  • The Great Brain Does it Again (The Great Brain, #7)
  • The Great Brain Is Back (The Great Brain, #8)

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