The books, which detail life for three Catholic brothers in a Mormon town in 1890s Utah, describe a time when children weren't raised like bubble boys (my preferred technique). They explore caves, test their mettle with fistfights under rough and tumble lumberjack rules, and do demented things like this:
"We are playing Jackass Leapfrog," Sammy said as he led the immigrant boy to the center of the lot. He pushed the Greek boy's head down in position to play leapfrog. "You are the jackass," Sammy said as if the new kid understood English. "Now stay that way."
The rest of us kids lined up with Sammy in the lead.
"Whack the jackass on the rump!" Sammy shouted as he ran and leapfrogged over Vassillios with one hand while he whacked the Greek boy on the rump with the other hand.
The rest of us followed, whacking the jackass on the rump.
As it turns out, the term "jackass" is comedy gold to kids.
The protagonist, the narrator's brother who calls himself the Great Brain, discovers that Vassillios has formidable wrestling skills, solving his troubles with Sammy -- a dreadful child whose father derides immigrants for taking American jobs.
Reading this chapter, I wondered if Fitzgerald's 1969 book could survive the ideological cleansing that conservatives are waging in schools and overprotective liberal do-gooding that would purge fights and Jackass Leapfrog.
Great books indeed. As you say; perhaps a bit much for today's hypersensitive censors.
I loved the Great Brain as a child. Still enjoy rereading the series from time to time. I currently teach high school English, and I wouldn't hesitate to put those books into kids' hands. I also intend to read them with my own children.
I read a series of "science fiction" fantasies in early grammar school, about a school boy who befriends an alien from the planet Martini.
I don't think it would make it past the temperance prigs now.