A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Ellie develops a new friendship with a mild romantic overtone. One of her friends thinks Ellie's teenage grandfather is cute. Grandpa Melvin badgers his adult daughter to dress more modestly and describes her as having been "boy-crazy" when she was younger.
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Products & Purchases
A few brand names are referenced: Raisinets, Safeway, Play-Doh, Doc Martens, Volkswagen, and Super Ball.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults drink wine during dinner. Grandpa Melvin, who's in a teen body, sneaks a cup and later gets sick -- and in trouble for drinking.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.