Today’s episode of Bounded Enthusiasm is an interview with Jennifer Holm about her latest book, The Fourteenth Goldfish. Holm has written several books for kids, both novels and comics, and has won three Newbery Honors and an Eisner Award. Before reading The Fourteenth Goldfish to my kids, I knew about Holm primarily for Babymouse and Squish, two comics series she writes that are illustrated by her brother Matthew Holm.
In the podcast, we talk about Holm’s inspiration for The Fourteenth Goldfish, what it’s like being a parent and a writer, and why Jonas Salk was so cool. Download the MP3 here, or use the audio player here:
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The Fourteenth Goldfish is about 11-year-old Ellie, who has just started middle school and is starting to experience some of the tricky emotions and situations that arise. Her best friend seems to be drifting away and she’s trying to figure out where she belongs. But then one day her mom comes home with a grouchy thirteen-year-old boy … who turns out to be her grandfather. Melvin is a scientist who has been working on reversing aging, and it seems he’s finally had a breakthrough–but he’s also stuck being a teenager for a while, having gotten kicked out of his own lab.
Much of the book deals with the family dynamics: what happens when the parent and child switch places? What’s it like going through life again when you’ve already had a lifetime of experience?
But there’s also a lot of real science in the book, too: Melvin talks to Ellie about his heroes: Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine; Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the Manhattan Project building the atomic bomb; Marie Curie, who a pioneer in radioactivity. Ellie discovers her own aptitude and love of science, but also starts to learn that there are sometimes unintended consequences, too. Eternal youth is a scientific breakthrough–but could it also be a mistake?
Holm tackles some very sticky issues in a way that kids can relate to, and both of my daughters really enjoyed the book. My oldest just started middle school herself this year, so I think it particularly struck a chord with her (and with me). It’s a fantastic read for kids who are still finding their footing in middle school, and it’s an excellent way to include some science in your kids’ literary diet.
As a dad of three daughters, I’m always excited about books that feature fun girl characters, and the fact that Ellie is a budding scientist was icing on the cake. Regardless of whether my daughter pursues science later in life, characters like Ellie help demystify science and paint it as something worth studying.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a digital proof of The Fourteenth Goldfish for review.