Jennifer L. Holm addresses the eternal question in “The Fourteenth Goldfish.” If you could live forever, would you choose to do so? What would the implications be for society?
Cleverly, the book begins with eleven-year-old Ellie learning that the goldfish she thought hadn’t died since preschool was really a series of thirteen goldfish — each one replaced by another before she could learn about its death. Soon after Ellie finds out that her goldfish didn’t have an extremely long life (for a goldfish), her grandfather moves in with Ellie and her mother.
The catch? Her grandfather is, to all appearances, a thirteen-year-old teenager. He found a formula (created from a mutant jellyfish) that caused him to physically regress to his youth. But now the police have picked him up as a delinquent and he needs to sneak into his lab to retrieve his experiment and the mutant creature.
Ellie has other issues besides her new “cousin” who dresses in polyester pants and ties. Her best friend has abandoned her for the volleyball team. But having a grandfather around does have advantages. Ellie becomes interested in science, and she gets to know her grandfather better.
Holm’s writing is a wonderful mix of humor (the curmudgeonly grandfather) and compassion (he kept his wife’s slippers even though she had died many years before). He teaches Ellie a lot about science and life, and he opens the door to her interest in pursuing science. She realizes that scientists have passion — and it’s that passion that leads them to make wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) discoveries. But Ellie teaches her grandfather something really important, too. And that lesson may change the course of human existence.
“The Fourteenth Goldfish” is charming and very thoughtful — a perfect book for a classroom read aloud. Though it’s not a book that will appeal to every child — there is not a lot of action — there are several thoughtfully created characters, realistic dialogue, and issues to discuss. Definitely a must for school and classroom libraries.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book purchased by the reviewer. The publisher is Random House.
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