Searching for the Great Brain

When I was a kid, I loved John D. Fitzgerald’s Great Brain books (this one was my favorite). I read all of the books in the series several times. Fitzgerald’s stories were based on the adventures of his older brother, Tom, and were set in the fictional community of Adenville, Utah, at the end of the 19th century. The books were beautifully illustrated by Mercer Mayer, who went on to author several books himself.

As a kid, I wanted to go out and learn more about the characters from these stories, and now someone else has gone searching. Via Metafilter, I came across “Searching for the Great Brain,” a site designed by Robert A. Reiser and Learning Family, in which they travel to what they believe to be some of the novels’ prominent locations. Of course, they’re guessing about many of these locations, but it’s still an interesting site, perhaps even more interesting because of the speculative tone (it turns out that someone from the Utah State Historical Society was able to piece together some more factual information).

The site brings back a lot of memories of my early reading experiences. I still remember my excitement when I’d find a new-to-me book from the series at a bookstore, and looking back, I’m pretty convinced these books contributed to my desire to become a writer, simply because they had such a powerul effect on me as a reader. My parents have been cleaning their basement lately, and now I’m really glad my mom made such an effort to look for my copies and to make sure they don’t get thrown away.


  1. aly Said,

    September 23, 2004 @ 9:29 pm

    I like the great Brain books also. If you find any other sites PLZ E_MAIL ME! I,ve been studying this 4 over a year and would love 2 kno more.


  2. Carrie Thatcher Said,

    October 1, 2004 @ 12:55 pm


    I just ran across this. I’m a Fitzgerald fan myself. I am working on a research and writing project on his works and their history. I began in 1999.

    I read The Great Brain books as a child, but never could find Papa Married A Mormon, my husband found it. I loved it, and wanted to know the rest of the story. From there my work took off.

    The Reiser Site is the only one that exists at present. The Utah State Historian, is not a Utah State Historian. He like most of us took a trip to find the answers. He does have some legitimate information, but will only share it for a price. Atleast that was what he quoted me 4 years ago. Yes, Adenville is fictional, but John’s hometown was a closer match than most people know.

    What do you write Chuck? Mr. Fitzgerald’s style has touched alot of people. I bet he’d be glad to know he touched you. There was a time in his life when he gave up writing. Luckily his wife never did.


    P.S. Aly tell us more about your interest

  3. chuck Said,

    October 1, 2004 @ 7:20 pm

    To be honest, I don’t write anything other than academic articles and this blog right now, but at some point would like to try to write a screenplay. I figured Adenville might be fairly representative of JDF’s hometown–it’s much easier to draw from personal experience.

    Do you do any writing, Carrie?

  4. chris Said,

    November 10, 2004 @ 8:59 pm

    they should make a movie based on the books

  5. West Anson Said,

    December 2, 2004 @ 9:18 pm

    The Osmond family did make a movie of the first book back in the seventies. I have tried to find a copy on videotape but to no avail. I remember it being a very good screenplay of the book.

  6. sheree Said,

    January 29, 2005 @ 7:57 pm

    My class loves the Great Brain books, too. We are really into the characters and the 4th graders cannot wait to see how Tom swindles his brother or others into another fix. Thanks Mr. Fitzgerald. I am looking for a movie as well. Just like Maniac Magee, great story, no movie around!

  7. jahngrandstaff Said,

    June 2, 2005 @ 11:19 am

    Growing up my mother was a librarian and was thrilled when she finally got me interested in reading through the Great Brain Books.

    I am now 37 years old and recently moved and found my copies of the series and reread them for the at least 30th time but the first time in probably 15 years.

    My copy of the Great Brain has the movie poster on the cover and hadn’t thought about that for many years. So of course I started in on the web and haven’t had any luck so far.

    I have never actually spoken to anyone who has even seen the movie. Growing up in central Nebraska in the 1970’s we did not get many movies that were released.

    If anyone has any luck getting a copy I would love to be notified.

    Thank you in advance.

    Jahn Grandstaff

    PS I have two daughters but the name if either had been a boy was going to be Sweyn.

  8. Elijah Said,

    July 1, 2005 @ 4:01 pm

    This is for Chuck. Chuck there is a movie but its an old one.

  9. Stephanie Said,

    November 4, 2005 @ 11:38 pm

    I just have got to say a couple of things. I am 33 now, and my son is 6. I loved the Great Brain books so much when I was a kid, I read them over and over. (My mother swears that they warped me in some way, never to be the same child again, which perversely, makes me value them all the more.) I am now reading them to my son (he can read, but now I get to enjoy them again)and am thrilled to share them. I am so happy to realize that others enjoyed them as much as I, because I have never met anyone else who has read them.
    I had no idea that there was a movie, so if anyone gets a lead on that, I would love to know as well.
    Thanks to J.D. for a life of loving his stories, and being able to share them and pass them on…

  10. Robin Said,

    November 26, 2005 @ 9:15 pm

    I read these books as a child myself, and of course loved them. My son borrowed one from the library and really enjoyed the book. His Christmas list had all kinds of tech stuff listed and then The Great Brain series. I didn’t know it would be sooooo hard to find the whole series. Some of the books are out of print it looks like. I hope he is not disappointed this Christmas.
    Ahh, the joy of reading good children’s books.

  11. Chuck Said,

    November 26, 2005 @ 10:08 pm

    I wonder if Amazon would have used copies? It’s dissapointing to hear that some of the books are out of print….

  12. david Said,

    November 28, 2005 @ 9:18 pm

    does anyone know how i can get the one where the Great Brain goes to the academy?

  13. Lou Said,

    June 12, 2006 @ 3:09 am

    I’ve also been looking for a copy of “The Great Brain” video. I’m a teacher and my class has been listening to the book on audio. I’d like to show the class the film too, but haven’t been able to locate a copy. Hope someone out there can help.

  14. John Said,

    June 18, 2006 @ 12:19 am

    To All Fellow Great Brain Fans:

    It is great to see so many lovers of these books! I grew up in the mid 1970’s in Southern Minnesota and was introduced to this series by my 6th grade teacher’s novel discussion groups. I read The Great Brain at the Academy first and the others soon followed. I think Me and My Little Brain is my favorite. I eventually became an elementary ed teacher. While taking a children’s lit class incollege I did a short project on these books. I have read these book to each of my classes over the past 18 years. Back in ’89 I even had my students write letters to Mr. Fitzgerald, only to learn he had tied. I have seen the OSmond movie. I would love to see another made, perhaps even something in animation.

  15. Rod Symes Said,

    September 6, 2006 @ 12:12 am

    Like may have posted, I loved the Great Brain books when I was a child. After I got married, my wife (who had not read them as a child) read them together after I talked to her about them one day. I’m currently reading The Great Brain to my two sons.

    Some years ago, I found Papa Married a Mormon. In that book, it does have pictures of John’s family and pictures of his house where he and the rest of the family grew up. I’m not sure where Mr. Reiser got his information, but the house on his website clearly isn’t the one in Fitzgerald’s book. That book, too, is a terrific read – goes into much more detail of his parents and grandparents than you get in the Great Brain series. The Fitzgerald’s life was much more compicated than the GB series ever let on to, but, of course, the GB series was meant for kids, about the exploits of kids, not their parents.

  16. Sara R Said,

    May 13, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

    Thanks for this site!

    I read a short bio of John D. Fitzgerald. He was born in Price, Utah in 1906. The fictional John D. was about 8 years old in 1896–so he would have been born in the late 1880s. The real John D. grew up in Price, Utah, which is definitely not the southwestern Utah “Dixie” Adenville described in the books. He says in the first chapter of the Great Brain that it rarely snows in Adenville. That would put it south of Cedar City, where there is a lot of snow. The elevation drops about 15 miles south of Cedar City (called Cedar Ridge in the book; Black Ridge in real life) along the border of Iron and Washington Counties. Washington County is warm and deserty; Iron county is higher and snowy in the winter with a climate like Salt Lake City. There is about a 10 degree temperature difference between “Dixie” Southern Utah and the rest of the state all year.

    The problem with the location is that the railroad is in town. Utah’s “Dixie” didn’t have the railroad, and still doesn’t, as you can see on this map. St. George, a town that is booming now, stayed tiny for years because there was no railroad.

    The librarian who wrote to the Reisers above thought it sounded like Leeds and Silver Reef, and I would agree–except for the railroad bit. There isn’t a railroad in Leeds, and I’m about 95% sure there isn’t railroad in Silver Reef.

    John D. Fitzgerald grew up in Price, where there was railroad. Because of the mining industry there would have been a fair number of non-Mormons in the town, so socially Price would have been similar to Adenville.

    Also notice that the author was about 15 years “older” than his character.

    “The Great Brain” is more fictionalized than I would have suspected.

  17. amy Said,

    May 1, 2008 @ 1:41 am

    I, too, was a great fan as a kid. One thing that always captivated me was the geographic setting and the kids’ adventures outdoors, camping and exploring canyons. I credit the series with sparking my interest in the red rock country. Though I don’t have much to add to what has already been said about the location, I can recall using maps to try to place the location at that time and I still remember some of the place names used in the books: Hurricane, Cedar City, Virgin, “Dixie”, and I thought the river in the books must be the Virgin. Leeds or Silver Reef or another town in that vicinity seems right, while Adamsville, as suggested on the website linked above, seems too far north and too high in elevation. I realize that the reference to “Zion” in the co-op store’s name is something that could appear anywhere in Utah, but I liked to think it was locally referencing the region that would later include the national park.

    thanks for the memories!

  18. Carrie Thatcher Said,

    October 28, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

    Hi Everyone.

    I responded to this site in 2004. It took me a while but I have a website and blog page devoted to my nine years of research on John D. Fitzgerald his works and his family.

    Come visit, and www,

    See you then,

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