Friday, August 8, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Two boys came tooling out of the boy's bathroom yelling in nonstop panicked voices, "Mrs. Middleton! The toilet is plugged and water's on the floor! We flushed two dead goldfish down the toilet." "Huh?" I burbled "You what?" "We had goldfish as class pets. They died! Mr. Hudson told us to flush 'em..." I made the time-out signal with my hands. "Your teacher sent you from the fourth floor to the library to flush them down the toilet? That doesn't make sense." By now a school of students were swimming around me all talking at once. I slapped on my teacher face hiding my confusion and said. "Don't worry, we'll fix it." Come to find out Mr. Hudson, grade 4, told them to flush them down the toilet by his classroom. I have at least 100 students in my library after school and, whoohoo, did they love the goldfish incident. The hot topic bubbled the next day with classes that came to the library for lessons. "The Fourteenth Goldfish" begins with a similar goldfish story except eleven-year-old Ellie's mom has been replacing dead goldfish without her knowing it for seven years. Ellie thinks she has an immortal fish until her mom tells her the truth. Then she "...gave Goldie Thirteen a toilet-bowl funeral." See why I thought about my two Goldie Flushers in the library? Ka-pow! What a great beginning.

Ellie's best friend is now into volleyball and doesn't have time for her. When Ellie finds out from her flakey babysitter that her Mom will be late because her grandpa was at the police station, Ellie has no clue what is going on. Then her mom shows up with a teenage version of her grandpa and she's even more confused. Her Grandpa Melvin has managed to reverse the aging process by using a jellyfish that has the ability to regenerate itself. When he tests it on himself and becomes a teenager he is arrested in his lab for trespassing because no one recognizes his younger version. Gramps is desperate to get back to his lab and retrieve his research and with the help of Ellie and her new friend, Raj, the three have all sorts of adventures.

Jennifer Holm's characters are out there and memorable. Gramps only wants Chinese food for dinner and his fashion sense is either old man clothes or he raids Ellie's mom's closet. When he wears her black leggings I did cringe. Ew! Raj has the Goth look going with a hieroglyphic earring and black garb. Ellie's character arc involves her discovering that she really likes science and questioning when science goes too far and actually hurts humanity. The message of not giving up and new beginnings swim in and out of the plot. Marie Curie and Oppenheimer are discussed as support for these themes.

The title and cover of this book are clever. Just like Ellie's goldfish that never died, her Gramps is the fourteenth goldfish. And the beaker with the partial jellyfish floating off the page show how experimenting with science has made what seems impossible, possible. Then there is Holm's great lines. Here's a favorite of when her Gramps was complaining about aging: "'They stick you away in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities just because you're old.' Kind of like middle school. [Ellie thinks.]" An undertow of humor will propel you through this book.

4 Smileys

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