The Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Things were so much simpler for Ellie in elementary school. She didn’t have to worry about where to sit in the cafeteria, losing her best friend, or all the other changes middle school brings. Well, soon Ellie will have one more change…and this one will rock her entire world.

One day, Ellie’s mom brings home a strange yet oddly familiar boy. He bears a striking resemblance to her grandfather, but Ellie doesn’t know of any long-lost relatives who would just show up all of a sudden. So who is this odd, crotchety, young boy?

Well, as it turns out, this boy actually is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin. Through his research with jellyfish, he seems to have found the “cure” for aging, and this seventy-six year old man now looks like a teenager. (He still acts like an old man, though.) Melvin shares his discovery with Ellie and enlists her help in retrieving the research that he’s sure will win him a Nobel Prize.

Ellie is intrigued by her grandfather’s work, but, the more she learns about science and what happens after important discoveries–like Oppenheimer’s work on the atomic bomb–the more she wonders if Melvin’s breakthrough is a good thing. Does the world really need a cure for aging? What would be the consequences if such a thing were available?

As Ellie explores the scientific possibilities with her grandfather, she’s also coming to grips the changes in her own life. Maybe it’s okay that she’s letting go of old friends and making new ones. Moving on is a part of life, right? Now, all she needs to do is convince her grandfather of that…

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The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Auggie Jones is pretty happy with her life. She lives with her Grandpa Gus, rides around in his old truck, and helps him with his trash hauling business. She doesn’t really care that she and her neighbors live on the poor side of town. They have everything they need, and they’re always willing to help each other in times of need.

All of that, however, is about to change. This year, thanks to budget cuts, Auggie is being moved to a new school, where she’ll come face to face with people who judge her and her neighbors for what they don’t have. One of Auggie’s new classmates, Victoria, is particularly cruel, and it doesn’t help matters that she’s a junior member of the newly formed House Beautification Committee, a group intent on making the town a little more pleasing to the eye. But whose eyes are they worried about pleasing? And what does this mean for those who don’t have the money to make large improvements?

Well, Auggie decides to show the committee and Veronica that her house is something to be proud of. Auggie begins looking through the trash that Gus hauls around, and she starts to see potential in some of the discarded items. Where some people might simply see a broken toaster, Auggie sees a lovely metal flower. Where one person sees broken windows and pottery, Auggie sees a way to make colorful mosaics. And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty soon, Auggie and Gus are taking old, broken-down machines, and giving them life as whimsical pieces of art.

But not everyone sees Auggie’s creations as the beautiful works of art that she does. Some call them eyesores and demand they be removed…or else. What is Auggie to do? How can she convince people that her house and others in her neighborhood are beautiful in their own special ways? Can she find a way to show people that beauty is all around? It doesn’t matter if it comes from a trash dump or a fancy store. Beauty can be found anywhere if one takes the time to simply look.

The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

The Matchbox Diary takes readers on a journey through one man’s life. This man tells his great-granddaughter to choose one item in the room, and he’ll tell her a story about it. The girl chooses an old cigar box full of matchboxes. But there are no matches in these boxes. Each box carries a memory of her great-grandfather’s life, from his earliest days in Italy, through his family’s journey across the sea to Ellis Island, to their lives as Italian immigrants in an often unfriendly new world. Though he couldn’t read or write (at first), these matchboxes allowed this man to keep his memories alive to share with future generations.

The narrative of this book is presented entirely through dialog, which might make it a poor choice for read-alouds, especially with younger readers who have very little background knowledge of immigration. That being said, I think this would be an excellent addition in older grades’ studies of immigration, how families were often split up for a while, the long journey to America, and what immigrants encountered once they arrived.

The true strength of The Matchbox Diary, in my opinion, is in the illustrations. While the narrative seems a bit choppy at times, the gorgeous, detailed illustrations make the grandfather’s stories come alive. I expect no less from Bagram Ibatoulline, and he definitely delivers in this book.

Grumpy Grandpa

Grumpy Grandpa, written by Heather Henson and illustrated by Ross MacDonald, is an excellent book for young readers who really don’t understand the older people around them…and maybe even for older readers who may need a reminder of what it’s like to be a kid.

In this book, a young boy on a visit to his grandpa’s house wants to know why his grandpa is so grumpy all the time. Why do they always have to be quiet around Grandpa? Why does Grandpa need so much time alone if they came all this way to visit him? As the story progresses, the boy spends some time with his grandpa and gets to know him a little better. In return, Grandpa is reminded that he was once a kid and that he doesn’t have to be so grumpy all the time.

Grumpy Grandpa is a great book for grandchildren and grandparents to share.