Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm: curiosity & discovery, believing in the possible (ages 8-12)

Kids and teachers are loving a new book, The Fourteenth Goldfish, and it makes me so happy to hear them raving about it. I had a chance this weekend to sit down with Milana, a ten year old I lent my copy to, and we really had fun talking about this book. Talking about books together really helps us deepen our appreciation, deepen our thinking about the layers in a story.
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2014
Your local library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Sixth grade is tricky for Ellie, but the day her mom brings home a new kid turns everything upside down. At first, he seems like a typical surly teenager, but something "tickles at (her) memory." Ellie is shocked when she realizes this is her grandfather Melvin, somehow turned into a thirteen year old boy. "I discovered a cure for aging... the fountain of youth!" he shouts. But he's stuck in this new body and can't get into his lab to recover the T. melvinus specimen, the species of jellyfish that helped him change back into a teen.

My young friend, Milana, loved reading this so much that she bought one of her good friends a copy. "I got it for my friend because she's really into science and she really likes sea life. Now she's started it and won't stop reading it."

Holm seamlessly weaves into the story a love of science and Milana picked up on this. Right away, she talked about wanting to learn more about Salk's discovery of the cure for polio and Oppenheimer's race to build the atomic bomb. As I've been rereading this, I love how much science Holm incorporates, especially as Ellie gets to know her grandfather.
Melvin tells Ellie, "Scientists fail again and again and again. Sometimes for our whole lives. But we don’t give up, because we want to solve the puzzle... Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible."
The relationship between Ellie and her grandfather is what makes this book special for me. Holms creates believable, nuanced characters and I think that's one reason so many readers are responding to this story.
When Melvin, Ellie's grandfather, tells her mother, "'Your daughter’s interested in science. She shows great aptitude. You should encourage her.' I feel a flush of pride. Maybe this part of me—the science part—was there all along, like the seeds of an apple. I just needed someone to water it, help it grow. Someone like my grandfather."
As Milana and I were talking more about the characters, I asked her if Melvin reminded her of any of her grandparents. I wish Jenni Holm could hear this young girl talking about her grandfather, a doctor who's always busy thinking and talking on the phone -- and how this story helps her see a different side of him. Milana told me, "It makes me wonder what my grandfather looked like, how he acted and what he was interested in when he was my age."

The Fourteenth Goldfish left me thinking most about the themes essential to science: curiosity, discovery, possibility. A recent TED Radio Hour explores these same things, albeit more for adults. It starts with James Cameron talking about his childhood, when he loved collecting and studying all sorts of things, curious about everything. "It's almost like the more we know about the world, the limits of what's possible start to crowd in on us." But this curiosity stayed with him--and imbues both his movies and his love of oceanography.

The real power of The Fourteenth Goldfish? It's like so many well-crafted stories: creating conversation, creating a moment to think a little more deeply about those around us, creating an ah-ha moment that curiosity and a passion for discovery lay at the heart of science--believing in the possible.

More reviews:
The review copy came from my home collection and our library collection and Milana's collection (I've already purchased many many copies!). If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Mary Ann, I've heard so much about this book and just ordered it from the library 'cause it's one of the books featured in the #sharpschu book club in December. I don't know if you are aware of the book club, but you and your young friends, and anyone else interested in the books and authors of both THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH and COMICS SQUAD, should attend. The authors are guests! :D

  2. My daughters, ages 9 and 11, both loved this title. I've been a Holm fan since Our Only May Amelia.