Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Fun! Fascinating! Captivating! Charming!
I thought about going with fourteen adjectives to describe Jennifer L. Holm’s recent release, The Fourteenth Goldfish, but then decided it is doesn’t need a gimmicky introduction; it stands strongly on its own as a great work of young adult fiction that pushes readers to think more about science, consider the possibilities of reverse aging and wonder just how much age plays into a person’s role within their family. While this book definitely skews to the younger side of young adult fiction, aimed primarily at the sixth/seventh grade levels, it is a fantastic find for science teachers since it introduces some great characters from the history of science and questions the role of scientists in all of our lives.
It was a bit shocking that Ellie’s kindergarten teacher thought it was a good idea to teach young kids about the circle of life by giving them a pet store goldfish with a lifespan of a week so they could learn about death. That seems like a bit of a harsh way to crush the innocence of a child, but Ellie’s miracle fish lives for years, outlasting all of the other kids’ aquatic pets. I giggled when Ellie’s mom fesses up to having used replacement fish for year, sneaking the dead one out of the bowl and plopping a new on in its place before Ellie can discover that her initial goldfish wasn’t special and didn’t outlive those of her classmates.
Soon though, the goldfish-incident is forgotten, when Ellie’s mother brings someone new home to stay. Dressed in a sweater vest, perfectly ironed khakis and black dress socks, Melvin just doesn’t blend in with other kids his age, but Ellie has a strange sense of knowing this odd new addition to her home. But why wouldn’t she? Instead of being another sixth grader debating between the corndog or the pizza for lunch, it turns out Melvin is actually Ellie’s grandfather!
Melvin, a scientist, through the help of some fisherman friends in Australia, has discovered how to reverse the aging process, using himself as the guinea pig in his first human experiment with what can only be described as science-fiction come to life. Since no one knew what he was working on and he now looks like any other pimply kid on the brink of being a teenager, access to his lab is denied, and he can’t drive a car or live on his own without raising suspicions. His daughter (Ellie’s mom) takes him in, but makes him attend middle school as part of his cover, where his multiple graduate degrees make sixth grade science something he could do during a nap and fitting in nearly impossible.
Stuck with Melvin, her grandfather, Ellie begins to realize that she isn’t cut out for the life of an actor like her parents, but rather that she has a keen interest in the experiments her grandfather has worked on and maybe her place in this world is wearing a white coat in a lab rather than an ornate costume on a stage.
I love that this book introduces a variety of historical figures in science, everyone from Galileo and Newton to Salk and Oppenheimer, but in a way that leaves a lot of room for the reader to follow up and discover more about them. There is enough detail to intrigue, but enough left unsaid to encourage a bit of post-reading browsing. But, the scientist themselves aren’t the only draw of the book, as it touches upon bigger questions, like what exactly is the role of a scientist and how far is too far. Jennifer L. Holm’s recent publication, The Fourteenth Goldfish, is lighthearted and a quick read (I downloaded it before bed and didn’t turn off the light until I had turned the last page!) and one that will draw in a variety of middle level readers, earning it:
When I realized it had been awhile since I posted a book review, I went back to the blog to check just how long it had been and was horrified to see my last book review went up on November 15- nearly two and half months ago. It isn’t that I haven’t read anything since November, but somehow I’ve been lazy and not written up any of them, good or bad. (And boy, there have been some doozies on either end of that spectrum.) It is probably not a good idea to go back and try to cover all of those missed reviews, so I’ll just promise to be better about them from here on out and pick up where I am now.
I initially picked up Morgan Rice’s Arena One because it was billed as a book for people who loved Hunger Games, which I did. (Although my love in the series diminished with each subsequent novel.) I figured this might be the next great YA trilogy and I was excited to start a new series. I’ll be brutally honest here- don’t bother. I’ve never read a book that seemed to be written solely with the thought of making millions in Hollywood. The whole thing seems ready to translate directly into a screenplay that will be attempt to be the next big summer blockbuster.
Arena One starts out in the not-so-distant future when the US has been destroyed by a second Civil War- this one brought on by the fractious nature of the American political system, where each side takes more and more extreme positions, until actual war breaks out, trapping the citizens in the middle of the politicians deadly hubris. After the government fails, large gangs take over the big cities and scour the countryside for any holdouts, hoping to make them slaves or pit them against each other, to the death, as a form of entertainment and a show of power. Hence, the existence of Arena One.
The premise of the book is by no means unique or horribly intriguing, but with a great writer at its helm, it could make a great story. Instead, Rice spends most of it writing car chase scenes and increasingly violent hand-to-hand combat battles. I think the initial chase scene is where I began to lose interest. I get the desire for action and the seemingly endless car chase may definitely draw in young male readers, but it felt like it went on for an eternity. How a car, no matter how plated and outfitted, would ever be able to submit to the abuse in the early chapters of this book is beyond me. And yet, it does and keeps on rolling! This whole section of the book felt like it was being written for the big screen, rather than meant for the realm of words on a page.
While another series with a strong female lead character is always a positive thing (especially when it is one that draws in both male and female readers), but I hate that yet again, that lead character has to get caught up in a romantic relationship, or worse yet, a love triangle. Brooke is a caring young woman who has spent the last handful of years protecting her little sister on her own, but the instant a boy walks into her life, she suddenly gets all oozy/woozy about him. (To be fair, she is still the physically and mentally stronger character, so she doesn’t totally wimp out, but it would have been awesome if this new compatriot had also been female.)
As the action (and I do mean action!) continues, there are more car chases, lots more blood and gore and a bit of suspense to lead into the second book in the trilogy. I can definitely see where middle school boys would love this book and if I were still teaching, I would definitely buy it (and it’s sequels) for my classroom, but on a personal level, I just hated how much it felt made-for-Hollywood. Knowing that popular YA books translate into massive bucks when they are released in theaters, it felt like Rice was pandering too much to the exes who might buy his stories. With that in mind, I give Arena One by Morgan Rice only: