Believing in the Possible with Jennifer Holm

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Many of you know that our motto in the library is “Expect the Miraculous” based on the book Flora & Ulysses.  When I saw the cover for Jennifer Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish for the first time I was immediately drawn into the tagline “Believe in the  impossible possible.”  Before I even read the book, I felt a connection.  I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader’s copy of the book at the Texas Library Association Conference back in April and I was hooked from the opening chapter.  In fact, you can read the opening chapter here.

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During the summer, I was contacted by the wonderful people at Avid Bookshop about a potential author visit with Jennifer Holm.  She was planning to be at the Decatur Book Festival on Labor Day weekend and was spending some time visiting bookstores and schools ahead of the festival.  It was fate.  The author of a book that I absolutely loved that connected with our philosophy of the library was available to visit our school.  I immediately said yes and the planning began.

Pulling off an author visit in the first two weeks of school is tricky.  When an author visits, I love to have time to preview their books with kids, have classes sharing the books as a read aloud, and allowing students to create decorations to welcome the author to our school.  There’s also the presales of books.  Forms must be sent home, collected, organized, and books ordered for autographing.  Two weeks is hard, but we expect the miraculous.

Here’s what happened ahead of the event.

  • Every single Holm book was checked out by either teachers or students.  In fact, I didn’t have any library books available for her to autograph at the visit!
  • Announcements were made on BTV advertising the visit
  • Three teachers received advanced reader copies of The Fourteenth Goldfish and began reading it aloud.
  • The entire school was invited to make book birthday cards since the book came out 2 days before Jenni’s visit.

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  • Several people helped make decorations for the event including jellyfish and goldfish balloons to hang from the ceiling as well as some posters.

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  • Preorders went home on the 1st day of school and were due 4 days later.
  • Classes watched the book trailer for The Fourteenth Goldfish.

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Today’s visit was incredible.  Every 3rd-5th grade class came which was a little more than 200 students.  We shifted back the library shelves to make room for everyone.  Jennifer kicked off the visit by sharing with students the story of how The Fourteenth Goldfish came to be.  She shared the stories of famous scientists and what it means to be an true observer.  She shared family stories of scientists in her family and built up to the science behind the main idea of the book which revolves around a fountain of youth found within a jellyfish.  She held up an apple and invited students to think about whether or not it was alive or if it held new life within it.

Then, she spent some time having students ponder what it would be like to be old and suddenly be transformed back into a teenager.  What problems might people face if they changed ages?  What success would they have?  She turned this into a game by having kids come up to the board in teams and write everything good about being old and everything good about being young.  Then she tallied up the number of reasons to see which was better.  She did the same thing with new groups of students but switched to everything bad about each age.  While students were racing against time to make their lists, she took questions from students about her books and the writing process.  She also shared the secret Babymouse signal and had students do it (which was really a clever way to keep the audience focused and settle down).

I loved how she pushed students to think deeply about whether they would ever want to go back to being young if it was possible.  I also loved how she shared the idea of believing in the possible by connecting the story to an actual jellyfish that can revert back to a younger version of itself.  If it’s possible for a jellyfish, could it be possible for us?

I hope many students will take time to read this book, and I have a feeling after this visit that many will.  I know several teacher who are considering it as their next read aloud.  With tie-ins to science and the belief in the possible, it has so many implications for what it means to be a dreamer, a tinkerer, and a maker.

We ended our time by sing happy birthday to The Fourteenth Goldfish.

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Following her talk, she spent time connecting with students and signing books.  We found out that she had not signed a copy of The Fourteenth Goldfish yet, so Hannah was the lucky student who has the 1st signed copy of the released book.

We are so fortunate to have Avid Bookshop in our community making connections between the community, authors, and our students in schools.  Thank you Jennifer Holm for taking time to visit our school and share your wisdom with us.  Thank you Avid and thank you Random House for this wonderful experience.  Our students will never forget it.

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