Name of Book: The Great Brain
Author: John D. Fitzgerald
Illustrator: Mercer Mayer
Audience: The audience is for ages 8 and up, about grade 3. However, I might also use the book as a cultural introduction. Perspective taking is crucial.in using this book.
Summary: This is the story of a ‘Gentile’ family in Utah in the 19th century. It centers around the children of a family who are all boys. The activities of children, the process of growing up and growing older, and the dynamics of being different are the bread and butter of the story.
Literary elements at work in the story (Genre/setting/characterization/plot/theme/point of view/style):
This is a historical, realistic fiction tale. It is set in Utahin the 19th century, and revolves around the middle son (Tom Dennis, or T.D.) of the family, while being told by the third son (John Dennis or J.D.). While looking up to T.D., J.D. is very aware that his older brother isn’t the most ethical of people. While bright, T.D. is centered on himself, and J.D. is often left to clean up the messes made by his older brother – usually trying to mend fences and maintain relationships. J.D. tells the story as it happens, and then reflects on it a bit, providing color commentary for the actors in the story. It is an honest story of childhood, of community, of being the outsider, and of being the peacemaker.
(How) does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Many would assume that a white European Protestant perspective wouldn’t make a difference and is the norm, but they’ve never lived in Utah. This is very much a minority perspective, even in the present day, let alone in the 19th century. While there isn’t much focus on the Latter Day Saints church, the perspective being written from is a minority perspective. As such, this is a story of outsiders, a story of people on the periphery, and a story of the other.
Theological conversation partners: Any passage where the people of Israel are not in the promised land is a connection. The people as the resident aliens in the land is a base understanding for being non-LDS inUtah. Hence,Egypt, and exile are primary bases of comparison.
In addition, we might look at the stories that speak of family, especially brothers. Cain and Abel and the stories of Joseph and his brothers would also be appropriate. Particular stories in the various chapters may apply as well. For instance, when the kids are lost in the cave there could be a parallel to the men in the fiery furnace, or Andy who has lost his leg might relate to the healing stories of Jesus.
Faith Talk Questions
- Which character do you most identify with and why?
- What do you think of the discipline tool the boys’ parents use – the silent treatment?
- Have you ever been given the silent treatment? How did it feel?
- What does it mean for you to be lost?
- How would you define a friend?
- Would you be more likely to be friends with J.D. or T.D. and why?
This review was prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Wade Halva.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Books written for Grades 1 -3 (Ages 6-8), Faith Questions For...., Middle Schoolers, Older Elementary Tagged: | belonging, brothers, childhood, Community, exile, family, redemption, Utah