100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

The Fourteenth Goldfish
By Jennifer L. Holm

Random House

ISBN: 9780375870644
Grades 4-7
Out Now

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

*Best New Book*

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

Read an interview with Jennifer L. Holm at The Nerdy Book Club.

Also reviewed by KidsReads, Waking Brain Cells.

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 scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. You know, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was excellently done — but I didn’t buy the ending. There wasn’t strong enough motivation to actually change his mind, it seemed to me. (Trying to say that without giving anything away.)

  2. Travis Jonker says

    That’s fair, Sondy – I’ll be interested to talk to more students who have read it. I think kids may be more willing to go with the ending

  3. Yeah, I actually don’t expect kids to have much of a problem with it. So maybe it’s not fair to criticize it for that…. But I personally didn’t buy it.

  4. Sondy, your response to the ending is interesting. When I read it aloud to my 4th graders last year the ending only had them certain there should be a sequel. You can see their responses here: http://blogs.dalton.org/grade4projects/2014/04/08/edinger-house-responds-to-jennifer-l-holms-the-fourteenth-goldfish/

    And I’m reading it aloud right now to this year’s class (also 4th) and they are enjoying it as much as last year’s. One thing that interests me is that they totally appreciate Melvin’s grandpa quirks. It may be that I read him aloud well:), but I think it is also because so many of them have experienced an older cranky relative. (Makes me want to hear the audio version to see how the reader does Melvin:)

    You and your readers might want to check out my New York Times review(spoiler — I lived it): (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/books/review/the-fourteenth-goldfish-by-jennifer-l-holm.html?_r=0).

  5. I just read The Fourteenth Goldfish and Flora & Ulysses within a few days of each other. I loved both and think my 5th graders will really enjoy them, but didn’t really see a connection between the two until you mentioned it. I like that they both have entertaining quirks students will relate to but underlying themes that could promote some great discussion. The Fourteenth Goldfish seems to be a new genre for Jennifer Holm – I’m looking forward to what she does next.

  6. I would have to disagree with you Travis on the ending because I myself personally have read the book and i didn’t like the ending I thought it was sad and almost cried