Children's books about boy genius

I’m trying to track down a series I read as a kid (in the eighties). It’s main character was a boy genius, who made occasional inventions (like a contraption to launch newspapers from his bicycle to speed up his delivery route) or ideas for inventions (like extending the “chimney” on a train locomotive horizontally down the length of the train, so that cinders would not hit passengers leaning out a window. [idea shot down by engineer in book, as I recall]). I believe he may have used his intellect to solve minor mysteries within the books.

The books were sparcely illustrated, like the Judy Bloom novels: Fudge and Super Fudge, and the illustrations were similiar in quality and style. I believe the illustrations may have shown him as being freckled, as well.

I have no recollection as to the author’s name, character’s name, or any of the titles. Any ideas on what series it could have been?

The Great Brain, set in Utah in the 1800s? I remember the chimney idea specifically.

You’re looking for the Great Brain books, written by John D. Fitzgerald. I remember the train example clearly.

There are half a dozen books or so, written from the point of view of one of the Great Brain’s younger brothers (named John D. They are autobiographical to some extent). IIRC, they all have Great Brain somewhere in the title, except for Me and my Little Brain, which is about the little brother himself.

I loved those books.

If you liked The Great Brain* books, you might also like the Soup books by Robert Newton Peck. They’re set in 1920s Vermont and are about two boys.


Or, if you like the Great Brain books, read Papa Married a Mormon, by John D. Fitzgerald, about how his father, of Irish Catholic descent, ended up in Utah, and married a Mormon girl. The father had a rather more liberal religious attitude for his day, and allowed his children to choose their faith. Three stayed Catholic, and one, Tom D, he of the Great Brain, became Mormon. He even went on a mission to China. A fascinating book, with a non-fictional look at the family.

There was another series of books, Danny and the blah blah blah, that I adored as a kid: they were about a boy, a professor, and the various fantastical adventures they went on. The boy was a little genius inventor, I think.

But yeah. YOu’re looking for The Great Brain. I used a few of the cons from that book when I was eight to fleece my classmates.


Hey, Dorkness, are you talking about the Danny Dunn books? I used to love those!

Something like the train thing was definately in the Great Brain books, although Tom did not actually build the invention. In fact, he discovered, after talking to the conductor and engineer, that the idea would not work. These are excellent books, BTW, as are the adult books by the same authur (in addition to Papa married A Mormon, he also wrote Mamma’s Boarding House and Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse).

However, there was nothing like the newspaper shooting thing in the Great Brain books. Tome never had a paper route, per se.

Danny Dunn. His mom was the housekeeper for Professor Bullfinch, who ended up taking him and his two friends (one girl and one boy) on adventures all the time.

Also, there’s another 50s/60s kids’ series about a boy genius…Brains Benton. He may very well have had a paper route and done the automatic paper thrower.

I don’t remember the newspaper-throwing device in the Great Brain books, but Tom’s father owned the local newspaper, so it’s not entirely implausible.


The Great Brain books were illustrated by Mercer Mayer, who is among those currently being discussed in this thread.

No – I just reread the series a few months ago. Tom did deliver papers for his father, but not in a classic paper-route-a-la-Henry-Huggins way, and he definately didn’t invent an automatic paper-shooter to do it.

I Googled ‘“children’s book” inventions “paper route”’ and found The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald by Clifford B. Hicks. I haven’t read it, but it was apparently part of a series and included the paper-throwing thing. Here is a link to some of the inventions from the sereis. And here is a link with a picture of the book cover with the original illustrations.

I couldn’t find a mention of the train thing for the Hick’s books, though. However, apparently in the books, Arnold Fernald referred to his brain as ‘magnificent,’ similar to Tom referred to his own brain as ‘great.’ Maybe the OP has conflated examples from both series into one?

Hmm, I just discovered that, although I never read the Arnold farnald books, I did read Peter Potts by the same author. Very funny book, too, and it had a wedding at the end. I think I’ll try to find a copy!

Danny Dunn.

Discussed in this thread. I think a revival of the series would have potential. Make it about technology that was unimagined in the '50s but seems cutting-edge now. Danny Dunn and the Nanosites, Danny Dunn and the Space Elevator, Danny Dunn and the Genetic Engineering Lab, etc.

Of course, the genius of Tom Fitzgerald/The Great Brain was mainly not in cobbling together new inventions, but in coming up with money-making schemes.

Very true, BrainGlutton, Tom was more a junior con man than a junior inventor. He did invent things (a primitive roller coaster, a wheel of fortune, etc.), but they were usually intended to make money or advance some swindle. The sort of Rube-Goldburg-inspired invention that other children’s lit junior inventors specialized in weren’t really in Tom’s repertoire.

Indeed. He once won a large bet in a basketball game (then, a newfangled sport still being developed) vs. the older students in the school. His idea for a new defense was good, but not good enough to overwhelm all of the advantages the older boys had… But he knew it wouldn’t be, and so only bet that his team would lose by a smaller margin than they had previously.

Something like a paper-thrower would be much more in Danny Dunn’s style, but I don’t think I ever read him doing anything like that, and I read almost all of the Danny Dunn books (the Cleveland library system didn’t have a copy of …And the Anti-Gravity Paint).

And, of course, you could maintain continuity by making the protagonist the grandson of the original Danny Dunn.

I do . . . On one occasion he rigged a set of magnetic hooks on a line to snag one of his mother’s cooling pies from windowsill. (He wasn’t hungry, just bored.) Another time, he planned to spy on Professor Bullfinch’s lab work by making a periscope. Which requires prisms – he sent Irene to fetch her Dad’s binoculars so he could use the prisms in it, but when she brought them she pointed out (much to Danny’s disappointment) that they could just use the binoculars themselves for the purpose. Etc.