The Fourteenth Goldfish

Coincidence seems to turn up often in my life. I finished reading The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm just before I turned out the light to go to sleep. Shortly after I woke the next morning, an early morning radio news report on NPR featured the relationship between a positive attitude toward aging and increased longevity. The connection between a middle grade book and gerontology struck me as odd.

I’ve long been a fan of Jennifer Holm’s books. My favorites are her historical novels based on family stories – Penny from Heaven, Boston Jane, and the May Amelia books. My judgment evidently is shared by the Newbery Committees since she has shown up three times on their Honor Book lists. This book is quite different from those with a dose of intriguing fantasy.

Eleven year old Ellie copes with loss of a best friend, divorced parents, a new relationship for her mom, and dead goldfish – all fairly normal problems for a rising sixth grader. The twist comes when her scientific grandfather figures out a way to return to his youth and become her peer.

Ellie and her mom, who realize what he has done, pass Grandpa Melvin off as a cousin. The story line twists and turns as Grandpa alternately uses his knowledge from his years of living or behaves as an adolescent boy.

I questioned Grandpa Melvin’s decision to come back as 13-year-old. I loved the years I spent teaching people who were that age, but I consider those junior high years as the very worst in my own life.

The book was great fun to read and true to both of Melvin’s ages. I kept thinking it could also give rise to some good discussions about the pros and cons of being forever young. I pictured a middle school/junior high student and a grandparent reading it either together or separately and then discussing the pros and cons of their own ages and the consequences of never growing older.  

The book comes out tomorrow, August 26. I recommend it to people of either of Melvin’s ages.