The Fourteenth Goldfish
By Jennifer L. Holm
Random House Books, 2014
The Fourteenth Goldfish is a children's chapter book about the joys of science and death. Well, sort of. It is a well written, short work of children's science fiction that will grate extraordinarily on some people's nerves, and seem quite nice to others.
Ellie is a perfectly normal 12-year-old girl, although her family is a bit odd, with her parents being an actor and a drama teacher. Actually, her family is more than a bit odd, as her grandfather is a grumpy mad scientist, a fact that she suddenly becomes aware of when he comes to live with her family... having turned himself from a 70-year-old man into a 13-year-old boy.
Grandpa introduces her to the wonders of science (real science, not science fiction science), and enlists her help in stealing his Earth-shaking anti-aging formula from his old employers. This involves breaking and entering, yes, but it also involves making new friends, reaffirming the value of family, and some fairly milquetoast high-jinx.
Which is all good fun, but then Ellie turns traitor. She decides that the world has no place for old people sticking around past their allotted time: they must die to allow the young to live full and healthy lives. It's all phrased very nicely as a circle of life thing, but still, this is purely pro-death propaganda.
And that's pretty much it. Ellie does not actually convince her grandpa to die, and he does not unleash his formula upon the world. Ellie makes a new friend or two, and other teenagery things happen, and it's just a nice read.
Overall, this is a quite nice tale, an easy read, and introduces children to some basics of scientific literacy. If you are okay with teaching children that death is our friend, there is nothing objectionable about this book. But man, what a weird message for tweens.
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