The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm is a celebration of science. I loved the opening chapter where Ellie remembers the day her goldfish died (the one she received back when she was in preschool and was to teach her about the cycle of life). Okay, so maybe that sounds bad, but it was quite a funny chapter. The goldfish ties into the the whole story, but you have to get to the end of the book to know how.
Next, readers are introduced to Mom, who is late coming home because she had to get Ellie’s grandfather from the police. Apparently he was found trespassing on private property; it turns out he was trespassing at the laboratory where he works. Grandpa has discovered how to prevent aging, or in other words, the fountain on youth… and he tried out his experiment on himself, so now he looks like a fourteen year old. But he can’t get his research and specimens from the lab because he doesn’t look like his older, much older self. And then his key card stops working, and his email account has been deactivated. Grandpa needs to get his data so he can be published and remembered forever for this major scientific discovery. So he enlists some help- from Ellie and a classmate of theirs. Yes, theirs, because Grandpa, as a 14-year-old, has to attend middle school with Ellie.
There are several things that make this story work so well:
- The animosity between Ellie’s mom and her father, Ellie grandfather; many people can relate
- Melvin’s (aka Granpda) adjustment to looking young yet having the mind of an older adult who takes for granted things he used to do- like drive a car, putout the trash
- And, Melvin’s love and passion for science that Melvin plants in Ellie, then waters and watches grow
There is plenty of science to enjoy in the book with references to Louis Pasteur, Robert Oppenheimer, Marie Curie, and Jonas Salk; all of whom had major contributions in science, but not all were arguably for the greater good. Which leads to the moral question about the fountain of youth: Should their be one? This would be a great read aloud book with plenty to offer every listener.