The Fourteenth Goldfish

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Fourteenth Goldfish Book Poster Image
Funny, sweet fountain-of-youth fantasy about growing wiser.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This love letter to science spotlights the famous work of a number of important scientists: Curie, Salk, Einstein, Oppenheimer, and more. In a note at the end, the author encourages readers to pursue scientific inquiry themselves and lists online resources for further learning. There's also a lot of attention given to the performing arts and literature, with references to Our Town, Hamlet, Les Miserables, The Catcher in the Rye, and other works.

Positive Messages

The Fourteenth Goldfish cheerfully encourages readers to "believe in the possible" -- to be open to the unexpected and embrace failure as a necessary part of growth and discovery. Ellie and her grandfather find ways to connect and understand each other despite the generational gulf. Ellie discovers her own passion for science and appreciates the intersection of science, philosophy, and history. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ellie is thoughtful and practical. Her divorced parents remain friendly and appear to be a cooperative parenting team. As both a grandparent and a teen, Melvin tends to be self-absorbed and narcissistic, but he has plenty of good lessons to share with his granddaughter.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (BabymouseSquish, 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjellybean_1414 August 15, 2015


This is a great book that teaches students and readers to be loyal and responsible. Although once a crime is committed in the story, the characters realize what... Continue reading
Parent of a 5 and 9-year-old Written bymissladybug1221 January 13, 2016


I bought this book from a book store bargain bin after seeing it in our school's LYRC section. I was not disappointed! The main character, Ellie, is a brig... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byFaylipants September 10, 2015


This book teaches kids the circle of life and how it will affect the world if you try to go aginst it.
Kid, 11 years old November 17, 2020

A Tale of Aging and Eternal Youth

Okay, we all need a little rest from work, even workaholics can't tolerate a schedule that lacks rest. Maybe resting is what you need right now. Though th... Continue reading

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? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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