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STEM Book Club: The Fourteenth Goldfish

February 2020

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm is a 4-6th grade juvenile fiction book with some fun STEM elements.

Eleven-year-old Ellie isn’t big on change. She liked fifth grade. She misses fifth grade. Sixth grade just isn’t the same; her best friend has become distant and Ellie doesn’t really know what to do about it. This was her biggest concern until her 76 year-old grandfather shows up on her doorstep, looking like a teenager.

Apparently, her scientist grandfather–obsessed with immortality–experimented on himself and found the fountain of youth. Now this angsty teen with the habits of an old man wants Ellie to help him break into is lab and steal his experiment back.

Things are about to change in a big way and for once, Ellie isn’t sure that is a bad thing. Besides, what could possibly go wrong?

Discussion Questions / Further Reading

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?

  2. Senescence is the process of aging. Why would someone like Melvin be interested in this area of study?

  3. Why did Ellie’s Kindergarten teacher give everyone a goldfish?

  4. What would you do if a grandparent showed up on your doorstep as a teenager?

  5. Melvin says, “Scientists never give up. They keep trying because they believe in the possible.” (p. 47) What does he mean when he says this?

  6. What was Melvin trying to teach Ellie with the apple? (pg 52) – Think apple vs. the seeds.

  7. What does Ellie mean when she says, “Science fiction [is] becoming reality”? (p. 59) What are some examples of science fiction becoming reality?

  8. Ellie starts to become more and more interested in science, besides her upbringing in a theater family. What are some examples where you can “see” this happening?

  9. Explain why Ellie thinks that Melvin is the fourteenth goldfish? (Ch 29)

  10. If you could stay young forever, what age would you want to be and why?

  11. Is every scientific discovery good?

Aging Simulation

Supplies: Oversized Gloves; Puzzle with only a few pieces; Magnifying glasses; plastic straws; one-use earplugs.

Background: As we get older, our bodies break down and we lose some of our sensory motor functions—our eyes get weaker, we lose some of our mobility… every day tasks get hard. This simulation is to create an appreciation of the aging process.

Simulations: Wearing the oversized gloves, try putting together the puzzle as quickly as possible.

  1. Wearing the magnifying glasses, go into the children’s room and locate a picture book that starts with the letter “S”.

  2. Put the straw in your mouth and breath only through the straw. Do 20 jumping jacks, which breathing through the straw.

  3. Put the earplugs in. Try to repeat exactly what the moderator says.


  1. Describe your feelings about the limitations you were given?

  2. Did you experience any difficulties completing your task?

  3. What changes did you observe? About yourself or those observing you?


How’d it go:

What a great group! We had a really great discussion, without me having to yank it out of them. And everyone seemed to have fun with the, somewhat chaotic, aging activity. It went a little faster than I would have liked, so I would tweak a few things but overall, a great STEM club session.

That’s all for now!


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