Category Archives: Juvenile Fiction

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

When I saw Newbery honor-winning Jennifer L. Holm‘s new middle grade novel, The Fourteenth Goldfish, on NetGalley, I requested it right away.  I enjoyed her historical fiction novels Our May Amelia, The Trouble with May Amelia, and Turtle in Paradise and expected a well written story with a strong sense of place and excellent characterization.   While I wasn’t exactly disappointed, I was surprised at how different this one is from Holm’s other novels I’ve read.   The Fourteenth Goldfish isn’t historical fiction, but rather a realistic novel with some fantastical elements that are (maybe?) supposed to be read as reality.

The Fourteenth Goldfish is the story of eleven year old Ellie, a newly minted sixth grader for whom change is coming too quickly.  She has a normal life–she goes to school and mourns the inevitable dying of her childhood friendship with her former best friend; she comes home and fixes her own supper while her drama teacher mother works late; she does her her homework and keeps her nose clean.  She’s a pretty mature kid.  The problem is she really isn’t sure where she fits anymore.  Her mother and actor father (her parents are divorced but friendly) want her to follow in their footsteps, but she’s just not into the drama scene.  When her mother brings home a cantankerous teenage boy, Ellie figures he’s one of her drama kids from school who needs a bit of help.  It turns out, though, that he’s more than a little bit like her scientist grandfather whom she sees infrequently because he and her mother don’t exactly get along.   In fact, the teenage boy IS her grandpa, a research scientist who has figured out how to reverse the process of aging.  What follows then is Ellie’s growing relationship with her teenage grandfather, whose purpose in life now is to break back into the lab where he worked as an adult to rescue his experiment and then continue his work.  Ellie, Grandpa Melvin, and Raj, a guy from school, form a very unlikely trio bent on this scheme.

This is an enjoyable story, though I still am not sure if it’s supposed to be part sci-fi or if it’s supposed to be read as realistic.  I think this little bit of ambiguity weakens it–it’s mostly realistic, but the idea is there that the possibilities within the universe are endless.  What’s a reader supposed to make of that?   The best part of the story is the growth in Ellie’s relationship with her grandfather, of course, and her appreciation for his maturity and experience.  I think one of the purposes of the book is probably to be a Rah! Rah! Girl Power book since Ellie discovers a real love for science and is encouraged by Melvin to go for it.  It’s a case of Ellie making up to her grandfather what her mother didn’t do–attend an Ivy League school to study science.  There are numerous references to scientists and science talk sprinkled throughout.   I can’t really say that I think Jennifer L. Holm delivers in this particular title, but I suppose it depends on what you’re expecting.   This one will be available for purchase on August 26, 2014.  (Random House)

Read Aloud Thursday–July 2014

read-aloud21How’s the reading aloud going in your neck of the woods?  It’s slow but steady ’round these parts.  Amid a topsy-turvy summer schedule (or lack thereof) and a week-long trip to Dauphin Island, we’ve managed to finish two chapter books and read a number of picture books for the library summer reading program.  Lulu thinks she’s mostly outgrown picture books, but Louise still willingly hangs around for them.  (Lulu will listen in, but she would probably never ask for a picture book now.)  I mostly feel remorseful when I think about how much I read aloud to the girls when they were the DLM’s and even Benny’s age.  Sigh.  (Yes, I know that our family situation is different now.  I get that.  However, it doesn’t make me feel any better.)

So.  I’m turning over a new leaf in the read-aloud department as far as the boys are concerned.   I’m still figuring out what formal (ish) plans I’ll have for the DLM once we start back on our school schedule in a few weeks.  Whatever they are, they will include a good bit of reading aloud.  It’s what I do, and it’s what he needs.  :-)  Today I wanted to share a few things he’s been enjoying lately, aside from Curious George, Franklin, and any sort of superhero/Lego/whathaveyou book he can convince me to bring home from the library.

This Target find is a current favorite of the DLM’s.  I’m not usually a fan of books like this–lots of flaps and doors to peek behind, but little in the way of literary quality.  ;-)   However, if mothering (and reading to) a boy for four years has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that informational books about vehicles and tools are big stuff (even more here), and a little action on the page is fun.  Priddy books are some of the best.

I’ve made a conscious effort on at least one library trip to gather up several books by one author in order to be a little more thoughtful and methodical in my reading aloud to the DLM.  The author I chose was Karma Wilson because I happened to pick up one of her books and remember how much fun they are.   She’s a very prolific author, and one that preschoolers, grade schoolers, and even adults can enjoy.   So far as I can tell, all of her books contain two elements:  rhyme and humor.  It’s hard to go wrong with that combination.  These are the ones we’ve enjoyed the past couple of weeks and Highly Recommend:

(I actually wrote about one of Karma Wilson’s Bear books in my very first RAT post way back in 2008!)

DSC_0052If I feel guilty about the amount of quality time I spend reading to the DLM, you can double that for Benny.  This little guy has watched more television than all his siblings combined had watched at his age, and he has had infinitely fewer books read to him.  :-(  (It’s one of those things that I always thought I’d never allow to be as a parent, but I’m finding some things are more out of my control than I like to think they are.  ;-) )  My new reading leaf I’m turning over for him is to read through a stack of four or five well-loved board books on the days that we’re home for him to nap just before he goes to sleep.   I’m keeping them on my table beside the rocking chair, and I’ll switch them out every week or two.  Here are our current picks:

The girls and I (with the DLM tagging along and surprising me repeatedly with how much he takes in) have enjoyed two chapter books this month:  101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith and The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis.

Both of these were challenge books.  We read 101 Dalmatians for Carrie’s Classics Bookclub.  I am the hostess this month, so this was a pick from my Classics Club list.  You can read my thoughts about it in Carrie’s wrap-up post for this month’s bookclub.   We read The Horse and His Boy for Carrie’s Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge.  It’s always a pleasure to be back in Narnia again.  :-)  Next up for us is Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows.  I’ve never read it but have heard it’s hilarious.  I’m keeping my tissue ready, though, just in case.  ;-)


If you made it this far, you deserve a gold star.  :-)

One more thing–have you been over to Sarah Clarkson’s new site, Storyformed, to poke around?   It’s still new, but I think it’s going to be a good read-aloud resource.

What have you been reading aloud this month?  Leave a comment or link up your blog post(s) below.

Happy Read Aloud Thursday!

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

Is it okay for me to admit that I wasn’t exactly excited about reading  The Horse and His Boy aloud to my children?  (Yes, I know this is breaking one of the cardinal rules of reading aloud–that the reader must be excited about what he or she is sharing.  A-hem.)  I picked it up anyway for the Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge at Reading to Know, feeling positively compelled to pick back up with where we left off a couple of years ago since we didn’t read a single Narnian tale last year.   Part of my hesitance also had to do with the fact that I have a child who’s particularly sensitive to spiritual issues right now, and sometimes reading about false gods, even fantastical ones, can bother her.  I soldiered on, though, because I really want to make one pass through Narnia sooner rather than later and then start over again for my boys.  It turns out that the girl in question handled the situation well and even declared this Narnian tale her favorite, once again reminding me that I never really arrive as a parent.  ;-)

Despite all my angst over reading this book (and the fact that I didn’t recall it as a childhood favorite myself), we all enjoyed this story immensely.  My adult perception of this story is probably a bit keener than my girls’ perceptions–first in that I really, really get all the spiritual implications more now than I ever could’ve as a child, and second in that this story just seems so very short and limited in scope to me.  I remember The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as this great, sweeping adventure, and most of the other books have always seemed that way to me, too.   The Horse and His Boy, however, seemed almost short-storyish to me this time around.  This makes me wonder if I were to go back and start at the beginning yet again if I’d feel similarly about all the Narnian stories.  Hmmm.

My favorite thing about this story, which probably goes without saying, is Aslan’s appearance in it.  It really spoke to me this time around because we’ve had a pretty trying summer (because of things I’ve shared here on the blog and thing I haven’t shared).  It has been hard for me to rebuild any spiritual resilience or vitality.  To put it bluntly, I just feel defeated.  It was comforting to me to remember that Jesus is “between me and the edge all the time” whether I feel like it or not, and to realize that everything that looks like a detour in our lives can be used for His glory and our good.  (It also makes me thing I need to find a hermitage of my own to retire to gain strength for the journey ahead.  ;-) )

My girls loved the adventure of the tale.  Louise said that Aravis reminds her a lot of Eilonwy of the Prydain Chronicles, which I thought was a pretty perceptive observation.  She even said she pictures Aravis with red hair like Eilonwy.  :-)  They were absolutely captivated by the resolution of Shasta’s story, and I must confess, so was I.  (Forgetting how stories end, and indeed forgetting most of the details, is perhaps the only advantage of having a poor memory.)

Here are a few excerpts that I particularly love:

King Lune’s description of what makes a king:

“For this is what it means to be a king:  to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

The Hermit’s admonition to Aravis:

“Daughter,” said the Hermit, “I have now lived a hundred and nine winters in this world and have never yet met any such thing as Luck.  There is something about all this that I do not understand:  but if ever we need to know it, you may be sure that we shall.”

The effect of being with Aslan:

There was a short silence and then they all stirred and looked at one another as if they were waking from sleep.  Aslan was gone.  But there was a brightness in the air and on the grass, and a joy in their hearts, which assured them that he had been no dream. . . “

Aslan, on only being concerned with what falls within our area of responsibility:

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers.  No-one is told any story but their own.”

What a great reminder in this day of social media through which we have more knowledge of others’ stories (or certain perspectives on their stories) than ever before.  I’m working to keep my eyes on my own work.

Chronicles of Narnia Reading ChallengeNow we’re two books away from reading all the Chronicles of Narnia together as read-alouds.  I like taking our slow way through them, so I think I’ll wait until next summer to move on.  Here are my previous Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challenge posts:


The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright

We finished The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright on this morning at snack time.   This was the perfect follow-up to The High King, the consummate fantasy.  I find that after I read a book of a certain genre, I almost always need something totally different to “clear the air,” so to speak.   The High King is extremely exciting, and almost every chapter ends in a cliffhanger. The Four-Story Mistake, on the other hand, isn’t exciting, really; instead, its strength is in its characterization and description of ordinary events in a family’s life.  Each chapter stands on its own, which I particularly appreciate.  (The downside to this is that each chapter is pretty long, so be prepared to read for a while at a time!)  This is the second book in The Melendy Quartet, a follow up to The Saturdays.  In this story, the Melendys move out to the country to a new-to-them house appropriately called The Four-Story  Mistake.  (It was built years before by a large and wealthy family and was supposed to be four stories.  When they returned from their Grand Tour, lo and behold, their home was only three stories tall!)   The book is all about their adventures in and about the town of Carthage.  They learn to ride bicycles (and Randy crashes headlong into a bus!)  Rush spends one stormy night in his treehouse.  Mona is chosen to be an actress in a radio drama.  The family is given an alligator!  Randy finds a diamond in the brook! Really, it’s a cozy and genial family story of the highest order.  We all love it and can’t wait to read the next installment.  Elizabeth Enright is a master, and I can’t help but laugh or sigh as I read her descriptions:

Randy swooped expertly around the driveway circle, brought her bike to a slow and graceful stop and dismounted.  As she gathered up her presents from the wire carrier, the [war] bond crackled against her chest.  Yes, finding the diamond had been a miracle.  But Randy couldn’t help feeling there were many miracles in her life.  Wasn’t it a miracle to live in the country in spring?  And to have a wonderful family that she was crazy about, and a house with a secret room and a cupola, and to be eleven and a half years old, and very good at riding a bicycle?  (175)

(I shared another lovely quote–possibly my favorite from the book–in this post.)

I think I like this sort of book best of all–the kind that isn’t really about anything in particular, but all kinds of interesting things happen, and life is affirmed over and over again.  Here are some other books and series similar in style, message, or tone to The Melendy Quartet:

What most of these books have in common is that they’re about a family of children that are mostly left to their own devices and have all sorts of scrapes and adventures and experience childhood to its fullest.  Can you think of any to add to the list?  I’m all ears!

We love, love, love, love the Melendys and give them a Highly Recommended (Henry Holt, 1942).

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

After reading Carrie’s review of Natalie Lloyd’s debut novel, A Snicker of Magic,  I added it to my mental TBR list and was pleasantly surprised when it appeared on the new books table at one of our libraries.  Then it languished in our library bin at home until I finally promised one of my girls I’d read it before (maybe) handing it off to her to read.  I’m really glad I finally pulled myself out of my think-think-think mode I’m in this summer to enjoy this bit of fiction.   A Snicker of Magic is the story of Felicity Pickle, a twelve year old girl who temporarily settles with her mom and sister in her mother’s hometown of Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.  Midnight Gulch is no normal town–rumor has it that it used to be a magical place.   Now all that’s left is a snicker–just a little bit–of magic:  enough that some of its residents can do unusual things, like make ice cream that doesn’t melt and one particular flavor that helps the eater recall memories, both good and bad.   Felicity herself has the unusual ability to see words.  She’s a word collector, always writing in her blue notebook the words she sees spinning and shimmering in the air.  The real magic in town, though, comes from the Beedle, an anonymous do-gooder who’s been up to his or her RAKs for fifty years.  The magic in town goes way back to a couple of brothers–Stone and Berry Weatherly–who had a gift of magic but quarreled, and nothing has been the same since.  The story is something of a mystery in which Felicity and her best friend Jonah Pickett have to figure out a way to break a curse that has plagued the Weatherly descendents and a way to make Felicity’s mother, forever cursed with wanderlust, settle down in Midnight Gulch.

This book is nearly perfect–a sweet confection of wordsmithery, magic, and do-gooding, with a completely satisfying ending.   If it has a weakness, it’s that Felicity’s voice is a wee bit too innocent for a twelve year old sixth grader who has moved repeatedly, but really, in my book that’s a check-mark for the plus column.  (Her voice reminds me a bit of India Opal Buloni’s in Because of Winn Dixie.)  Here’s one of Felicity’s observations:

The way he said her name made my heart cramp.  In all my years of word collecting, I’ve learned this to be a tried and true fact:  I can often tell how much a person loves another person by the way they say their name.  I think that’s one of the best feelings in the world, when you know your name is safe in another person’s mouth.  When you know they’ll never shout it out like a cuss word, but say it or whisper it like a once-upon-a-time.  (86)

This book is like a bunch of self-help slogans–Think Positively!  Accept the Past and Move On!  Love Makes the World Go ‘Round!–all wrapped up in a very winsome package.  I won’t be a bit surprised if this one snags a few honors.  Check out Natalie Lloyd’s website; her voice on her blog is very similar in tone to the book.  (Scholastic, 2014)