A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (Babymouse, Squish, Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf) is a warm and thoughtful look at science, morality, and the circle of life. It pulls no punches about the so-called golden years, from physical problems to the loss of friends: At one point, Ellie's grandfather says he'd rather be dead than old. The reading level is fine for 8-year-olds, but the themes of change and aging are more likely to resonate with older elementary school students.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Eleven-year-old Ellie feels adrift in her first year of middle school. Her parents are worried about her finding her passion, but she's more concerned about the growing distance between herself and her best friend. Life gets a lot more interesting when Ellie's mother brings home an odd 13-year-old boy who grouses about the lawn, badgers her about the honor roll, and scolds her mom about her outfit. Ellie's startled to realize this boy is her Grandpa Melvin, a scientist who has found a way to reverse aging with help from a rare jellyfish. Ellie realizes she and her grandpa have more in common than she knew, but she's worried his breakthrough might not be as wonderful as Melvin believes it is.
Is it any good?
THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH is a sweetly written story about coping with change and growing older, infused with both joy and melancholy. Author Jennifer L. Holm, known for the Babymouse and Squish graphic novel series, gets into some weighty material here: the pain of growing old and letting go, scientific discovery as a double-edged sword, and the relationships between parents and children across the decades. But Holm keeps things light and easy by focusing on the positive: Where one thing ends, after all, something new begins.
Cantankerous Melvin is an especially enjoyable character, lighting up the narrative with comparatively placid Ellie as his foil. Even with a healthy willing suspension of disbelief, the story strains plausibility: An ordinary middle schooler would be mortified to be seen with Melvin, with his odd style of dress or grouchy demeanor. Instead of tween navel-gazing, Holm uses Ellie as analytical observer who often seems the most emotionally mature of the bunch.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Melvin still behaves like an old man even while he's in a teenage body. How do you think your personality might change as you grow older? Parents can share how they've changed since childhood.
What's the appeal of stories in which a character reverses the aging process? What other books have you read or movies have you seen where an adult becomes a kid? How does The Fourteenth Goldfish compare?
Would you want to turn back the clock and try to live forever or at least longer?
- Author: Jennifer L. Holm
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Great Girl Role Models, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Random House Children's Books
- Publication date: August 26, 2014
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 208
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: December 13, 2019
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