Success – Second Time Around
By the end of 1961, it appeared that the Fitzgerald family book saga had ended. The market that had swept up around John’s first series was dwindling. Sadly, the transition left one book John had written unpublished. The Great Brain manuscript floated from slush to slush pile. For six years it lay dormant, on some floor or table stack. Eventually, publisher, Phyllis Fogelman, saw potential in the book. Scooping it up, she contacted John. Together they took the original manuscript apart. With deft skill they created a delightful Young Readers book for Dial Books.
Hot off the press in 1967, the new YA Great Brain book was a hit. School Library Journal wrote, “This first-person novel starts humorously, ends tenderly, and never drowns in nostalgia.”
Just like John’s first series, the release of The Great Brain, opened up a potential new series for Fitzgerald fans. 1969 would find More Adventures of the Great Brain, playing the role of book two in an unexpected eight book series.
How Far to Go?
1971 through 1975, John published a book a year. Readers, teachers, parents, and librarians couldn’t get enough of the Tom Sawyeresque con-man, T.D. Fitzgerald. The Booklist stated, “Once again Fitzgerald proves himself an entertaining storyteller, and Tom back in action will delight his fans.” Horn Book concurred with The Booklist, even went so far as to say, “Characterized by the pace, flavor, and humor which have ensured a permanent niche for its predecessors among the chronicles of boyhood, this latest collection of the Great Brain’s escapades will be welcomed by all his fans.”
Behind the scenes though, author and publisher were having a tug of war. In a “Publisher’s Note” written by Phyllis Fogelman in 1995, at the end of book 8, The Great Brain is Back, she reports, “By the 1975 publication of The Great Brain Does It Again he (John) was ready to retire from writing….(In fact, by then I had a constant struggle with him not to let Tom reform.)”
This amazing insight would never have been shared had John D. Fitzgerald not left a nearly completed manuscript among his possessions when he died. Following his passing in 1988, “loose papers already titled The Great Brain is Back were found. “We at Dial have taken great pride in arranging and editing the material and publishing it to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the publication of The Great Brain.”
The stories in the series are more than fun capers and mischievous adventures. Profound life lessons such as inclusion, immigrant families, over coming handicaps, love of pets, and community connection all come to life among the 60 plus chapters these eight books inhabit. My fondest delight is learning of a new generation of readers who are falling in love with these books just like I did.