The Great Brain Series

My children loved The Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald starting in the 2nd or 3rd grade. I enjoyed reading them out loud immensely.

There’s a good Wikipedia article about this series, so I’ll only give a brief summary here. Each book is a series of episodes about a Catholic family living in southern Utah in the late 1800’s. The narrator is the younger brother of the main character, Tom D. Fitzgerald, otherwise known as The Great Brain because nobody ever seems to get the better of him. The very first chapter is about the installation of the first flush toilet in the whole town at their house and how The Great Brain turns it to his advantage.

I enjoyed the descriptions of life out west, since family was from Idaho, I did some of my growing up there, but my children had never experienced the open skies, sagebrush, and tumbleweeds of western landscapes or bluntness and directness of western culture.

My particular reason for including these books in the positive canon is the way they show an outstanding character strength being used in widely different ways, some morally good, some not. Tom is a paragon of social intelligence, but you can never tell whether he’ll be using it in a particular episode to manipulate people or to help them solve human puzzles that daunt even the adults in his world. He is very aware of his ability — he calls himself The Great Brain. But just when you are wanting to give up on the way he tricks people to get his own way, he exhibits true wisdom and unselfishness. It’s a useful reminder about the power of character strengths and the mixed nature of ways they can be applied.

Besides, the stories in the 7 book series are just plain fun for both children and adults.


Series #1
The Great BrainGreat Brain cover
Series #2
More Adventures of the Great Brain
Series #3
Me and My Little Brain
Me and My Little Brain
Series #4
The Great Brain at the Academy
Great Brain at the Academy
Series #5
The Great Brain Reforms
Great Brain Reforms
Series #6
The Return of the Great Brain
Return of the Great Brain
Series #7
The Great Brain Does it Again
Series #8
The Great Brain Is Back


Filed under Positive Children's Canon, Self-efficacy, Stories, Strengths

4 responses to “The Great Brain Series

  1. Pingback: Positive Canon of Children’s Books « Positive Psychology Reflections

  2. ahiss

    I could never figure out if Tom had a heart or not. Every time he did something good I wondered if he was doing it for the sake of good or for personal gain. Every time he apologized for his behavior I wondered if it was just because he had to remain friendly with everyone for his schemes to work. There was never really a definitive test of his character, you know? He saved Frank and Allan and then you find out he had dibs on Lady’s puppies. He solved the railroad holdup mystery but then collected the reward money. I think the Andy Anderson thing had something to do with yoinking the kid’s erector set later. He constantly and callously exploits the rules of social acceptance in his family and in his group of friends, playing on J.D.’s fears of disappointing Mama and Papa and the kids’ fears of wounded pride.
    We know he felt like crying when he first left home. We know he wants his father to be proud of him. It is implied that the “silent treatment” works on him as well as on the others. But all in all I sometimes think pure, innocent J.D. was the more admirable brother.

    • Kathryn

      But isn’t that what makes Tom so interesting — and realistic? That it is impossible to tease apart these factors. I’m inclined to feel he could have found an easier way to ‘yoink’ an erector set if he had no interest in Andy’s well-being at all.

      Also remember the whole thing is reflected through J.D.’s eyes. I tended to be more on the J.D. side of things in my family — rather more easily duped than my brothers. But I don’t take my view of the way things happened in our shared childhood as an exact match for their views.
      Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. Hi,

    I have recently created a website about the background and history of the works of John D. Fitzgerald, author of The Great Brain Series. Please drop by and enjoy it.


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