Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish
Jennifer Holm
Random, 2014  190 pgs
Grades 4-6
Realistic Fiction

Eleven-year-old Ellie's life gets shaken up when her scientist grandfather moves in with her and her mother to their San Francisco bay area home.  The interesting thing is, Grandpa is now a thirteen-year-old boy.  He has discovered a formula with a secret ingredient for reversing the aging process.  The problem is that now that Grandpa is thirteen he cannot access his lab containing his secret formula or do much of anything else with out grown-up help.  Without knowing what else to do Ellie's theater teacher mom claims he's a long-lost cousin and enrolls him in Ellie's middle school.  Going to school and living with crotchety grandpa is not as bad as Ellie fears and the two become partners in crime, as well as friends.  Ellie is mourning the loss of her former best fried who has moved on to a new group of girls and welcomes the companionship Grandpa offers.  The two try unsuccessfully to break into grandpa's lab to retrieve the formula.    Grandpa enlists the help of goth boy, Raj, who's older brother has a car to get them back to the lab.  After a failed attempt the team is successful in retrieving the formula.  The questions now become what to do next with this information and is the world ready for it?  Raj evolves into a new friend and potential love interest, Ellie discovers a new found passion for science and cooking, and even mom grows, coming to terms with her relationship with her father and life choices.

I love me some Jennifer Holm.  She is an amazingly prolific writer, receiving three Newbery honors for her excellent historical fiction.  Teaming up with her brother, she also creates the Baby Mouse and Squish graphic novels.  I have read all of her well researched, yet approachable historical fiction, as well as Baby Mouse, but this is her first realistic offering I have picked up.  The Fourteenth Goldfish did not disappoint.  It is a deceptively simple book with a great concept (who wouldn't want to hang out with their grandfather at thirteen?) that has layers.  The Goldfish of the title is an analogy for the cycle of life.  Ellie's mom kept replacing her dead goldfish so Ellie wouldn't have to deal with death.  Once Ellie discovers number thirteen floating in the bowl, mom reveals the truth and Ellie feels betrayed.  Grandpa is the fourteenth goldfish and must decide with Ellie's help if he wants to go against nature, all while letting open a scientific Pandora's box.  I love the deceptive simplicity of this book, the messages it brings, and the encouragement kids will feel after reading it.  After Ellie discovers her love of science she asks Grandpa if she will ever win a Nobel prize and he answers without hesitation, "of course you will".  He offers her unwavering support all while teaching her to believe in "possibilities".  Science facts are sprinkled through the book making it a natural fit for the school curriculum.  Both boys and girls will love this book.  Even though the messages and the science element make the book a substantial read, it has a fun, quick plot peppered with humor throughout.  Grandpa may never win his Nobel prize, but The Fourteenth Goldfish is a children's literature winner!

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