Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
The Fourteenth Goldfish
By Jennifer L. Holm
In terms of stuff humans are fascinated with, the concept of a “Fountain of Youth” ranks right up there. With the The Fourteenth Goldfish, Jennifer L. Holm enters this science fiction-y territory, delivering a book that beautifully balances the head and the heart.
Question: What would you do if the cranky kid your mom brought home was actually your grandfather? That’s what 11-year-old Ellie has to figure out, because it happened to her. Ellie’s grandpa is an inventor, you see, and he just cracked the code on aging, turning back the hands of time to become 13 years old again. Ellie decides to help her grandfather retrieve a very important jellyfish from his old lab in order to continue his research, sparking an interest in science (and questions about the nature of discovery) along the way.
Readers love a book with a hook, and the first three pages of The Fourteenth Goldfish has one:
I took my goldfish home and named it Goldie like every other kid in the world who thought they were being original. But it turned out that Goldie was kid of original.
Because Goldie didn’t die.
While the short first chapter will draw readers in, the premise of the book itself will keep them there. Ellie’s first-person narration provides a smart, funny point of view of a kid trying to wrap their head around the impossible.
Holm’s writing has something rare: space. Clocking in at 190 pages, her skillful use restraint is just as important as what’s on the page. This succinct approach provides a solid framework and allows the reader to fill in the gaps.
I can’t help but draw comparisons between this book and Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses – not in content, but in context. Similar to Flora, The Fourteenth Goldfish is a departure book. It’s a bit unexpected. It’s also similar to Flora in that it’s a book that might seem silly at first glance, but reveals layers of depth upon reading. With themes of mortality and the ethics involved in scientific discovery, there’s plenty to ponder and discuss.
A thought-provoking, funny, and heartfelt book that readers will take to. This is a book to share.
Review copy from the publisher
Watch the book trailer for The Fourteenth Goldfish:
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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