Thursday, December 8, 2011

Book Review: The Great Brain Reforms

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Author: John D. Fitzgerald
Date: 1973
Publisher: Dial Press
ISBN: none
Length: 165 pages
Illustrations: drawings by Mercer Mayer
Quote: "Tom...had both a great brain and a money-loving heart...He had swindled every kid in town."
After writing three memoirs about his early life as a Catholic kid in a Mormon town, John D. Fitzgerald wrote a series of children's stories based on this characterization of his brother. The stories were classified as fiction, so although he continued to use his brothers and younger self as characters, in the Great Brain series he gave them more adventures than they actually had.
By the time my brother (who also had a great brain and a money-loving heart, but he used them to talk older people into hiring him for what should have been at least older teenagers' jobs) stopped bringing home these books, there were eight of them. In each book Tom wins other boys' money and possessions on bets, gets into trouble when his pranks lead other boys into danger, but restores everyone's good will by using his great brain to rescue his friends from the problems he got them into. Before volume eight, my brother was commenting that the idea of one boy having all that many adventures was wearing thin...but they all sound like adventures some child could have had, so they pass the grade as fiction.
In The Great Brain Reforms, narrator John is still in elementary school; older brothers Tom and Sweyn are at boarding school much of the time, and their parents have adopted the orphan Frankie to fill the empty space in their nest. When the older boys come home, Sweyn would rather try to act grown-up than play with John, but Tom is still interested in collecting the fees he charges other boys for playing with his basketball.
How Tom goes too far and is made to pledge yet another "reform" is the main source of suspense in this book. Let's just say that if parents read it with their younger children first, older children won't update Tom's clever ideas and use them to make the younger children feel more ignorant than they are.
Readers beware: this title has become rare. The copy I physically own will still cost you only fifty cents in real life, but it may cost you a collector's price (currently seems to run about $30) to buy this one from me on line.