The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

The Great Brain
The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We were listening to this audiobook today during lunch when it hit me: my kids are listening to a story about assisted suicide. My kids didn’t seem to be upset by the story, and it was written from a kid’s perspective and seemed totally realistic in that light, but it still set off flashing lights and danger signals for me, and I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly it did.

I wondered (and still wonder): Is it okay for kids to read books about pre-teens contemplating suicide? What about books about an entire town that basically lets a man starve to death in their midst because he’s an outsider?

I feel uncomfortable with my kids reading (or in this case, hearing) about these things, but I’m not sure why I do. Because kids do deal with these things. Well, maybe not literally letting a man starve to death, but they certainly observe the prejudices of others, and they experience being on the outside of a group and the fear that they might never live up to the expectations of their parents and their communities. Why not explore these things in fiction? Couldn’t doing so prepare them by giving them a test run for dealing with things in reality?

And I can definitely see how Fitzgerald’s take on young boys’ complicated and often convoluted moral reasoning could be helpful to a child, and the book is certainly engaging and fun to read (although why voice actors insist on giving New York accents to kids from places out West is a mystery to me).

We’ve had some good conversations, too, about whether someone who’s afraid to jump off a diving board is a coward or if someone’s parents would really stop loving them for it. And I got to answer questions like, “Mommy, what’s gangrene?” (A more pleasant one was, “Mommy, what’s charity?” which I think was more confusing for them than it might have been if their mom’s name weren’t “Charity.”) And man, do I feel grateful for vaccines after reading this book.

But still, I feel a little uncomfortable talking about these things with my kids, and maybe that’s the crux of the matter. I feel uncomfortable talking about these topics, therefore they must be “bad” for my kids to hear about, or so goes my knee-jerk reasoning. Well, I’m also not keen on having my four-year-old adopt the language of children who lived more than 100 years ago, calling people “crybabies” and “cowards.” He did dig a “pretend grave” yesterday, but so far he’s not asked to explore any caves or abandoned barns. With any luck, if the book encourages bad behavior it will also influence my kids to do more chores (I’m not holding my breath on that one).

Clearly I have conflicting emotions about this book. Overall it’s a good one, but I don’t think we’ll race out to get the next one in the series.

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