Study Guide

The Great Brain

By John D. Fitzgerald

The Great Brain Introduction

Ever heard it said that some people are too smart for their own good? To be fair, being smart tends to work out pretty well for the smart person. However, depending on what he or she does with that great brain of theirs, other people may get the short end of the stick. When it comes to ten-year-old Tom D. Fitzgerald, the great brain of The Great Brain, he puts his wits to work figuring out how to make a buck off every man, woman, and child in Adenville—and sometimes, even off their dogs.

Tom D. burst onto the scene in 1967, taking his place in a line of kids too smart for the adults around them, right behind the legendary Tom Sawyer and before Encyclopedia Brown. The author, John D. Fitzgerald, appears as a fictionalized eight-year-old version of himself, and the other characters are loosely based on his real-life family. Needless to say, there's rarely a dull moment when Tom's around. He's just too brilliant to let boredom settle in.

Consider yourself warned, though. While the book allegedly chronicles the Great Brain's transformation from con-artist to upstanding citizen, we have reason to believe the change is only skin-deep. After all, there are seven more books in the series. Is this good news for Tom's family and community? Not necessarily—but it's great news for you if you like this book.

What is The Great Brain About and Why Should I Care?

As Spiderman once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Part of what makes Spiderman a superhero instead of a supervillain is that he (oh so responsibly) chooses to use his power for good.

Tom, a.k.a. the Great Brain, is super smart, and therefore powerful, but unlike Spidey, he typically uses his powers to swindle his friends and family, all while pretending he's doing them great favors. Class act, this guy. He changes his tune, though, when he realizes that doing good makes him feel good. Go figure, right? Helping someone who needs help doesn't just benefit someone else, it helps the helper feel good, too. (Apologies if that sentence twisted your brain a bit—take a moment to detangle before moving on.)

Because of this, Tom's shenanigans aside, The Great Brain asks us to think about the power we possess and how we use it. The book forces us to consider what we're good at and how we can use our skills to help others—and why we should do so even if there's no direct benefit to us.

The Great Brain Resources


Good Reading
Here is the GoodReads site for The Great Brain, which is a great spot for finding out what other readers think about the book. You won't find out what Tom thinks, though, because he only reads reference works. It's like brain food.

The Real J.D.
At the GoodReads site for John D. Fitzgerald, check out the rest of this author's books. Dude really had a thing for Utah.

Finding Fitzgerald
If you can't get enough of John D. Fitzgerald (and who can?), check out this extremely detailed fan site.

Pictures Are the Best Part
Visit Mercer Mayer's official website to learn all about the illustrator. Let Little Critter be your guide.

Movie or TV Productions

Hope You Have a VHS Player
The Great Brain was brought to life in 1978.

Articles and Interviews

A "Mormon Book"?
Here's an article about Fitzgerald at the Mormon Literature Database, hosted by Brigham Young University. A big question for critics seems to be if Fitzgerald's work is "Mormon enough" to count as Utah's regional literature.

A Cult Classic?
Here's an article about what The Great Brain means in the 21st century. What's with kids today, anyway? Are swindles out of style?


The Great Movie Marathon
Watch the 1978 film in its entirety online. We'll bring the popcorn.


The Only Time the Great Brain Will Ever Offer a Free Trial
Listen to The Great Brain via Audible, but be sure to keep an eye on your allowance. You never know how far Tom's powers of persuasion extend.


Cover Brothers
Here's the Mercer Mayer cover for The Great Brain, depicting Tom and J.D. At least Mercer Mayer didn't draw them with fur.

The Great Brain on the Big Screen
The movie poster for The Great Brain. We're particularly into the tagline: "Half hero, half con-artist, all heart!"