Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Great Brain

I've mentioned here that I am always interested in finding books to read to my son that feature good boys as main characters -- boys who are smart and not alienated or disaffected.  Megan at Inhabiting Books recommended The Great Brain series and I finally began reading the first one to N. this summer after we finished the last Swallows and Amazons book (boo-hoo).  Two books in, we are really enjoying them!  Tom D. Fitzgerald, the eponymous Great Brain, is not exactly a good boy; he regularly outsmarts kids into making deals with him that are against their own interest, for example.  But I love the books (which are at least partly autobiographical) because they raise complex ethical issues that are not easily resolvable.  I had hoped N. would choose to read the books himself but now I'm glad I'm reading them aloud so we can discuss the incidents together.  For example, N. was perplexed and saddened by the death of the lone Jewish inhabitant of the predominantly Mormon Utah frontier town and we talked about why he refused to ask for assistance and why his distress went unnoticed.  A chapter called "The Taming of Britches Dotty" led to discussion of gendered social norms then (1890s) and now.  The dynamics of the Fitzgerald family are complex and interesting too.  Lots of great stuff to think over together.  Thanks to Megan for reminding me of these books, which I'd heard of but never read myself.


Erica MomandKiddo said...

I read The Great Brain when I was a kid but I honestly don't remember anything about it. Time to have another look.

Megan said...

So glad you're enjoying them and it's providing plenty of fuel for discussion. One of the things I love about the books is that it is JD (the good boy, but not goody-goody boy) who is the muslin through which all the experiences drain, if that makes sense. And while I don't agree with all the parenting practices of Mamma and Papa, I love that they are obviously loving parents trying to "civilize" their sons. Fitzgerald's humor and deftness of touch make it possible to have real, relevant discussions about themes that are still universal, despite the age of the books.
And I've found that in reading it with younger kids, they retain the memory of the events in the book, even if they didn't seem to pay attention to the incidents in the book, and still manage a couple of years later to make connections with what they heard/read when similar incidences come up.