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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Science

THE THIRD MUSHROOM by Jennifer L. Holm

The Third Mushroom is a sequel to Holm’s delightful The Fourteenth Goldfish. All the characters from the first book are back: we have 14-year-old Ellie, her best friend, Raj, Ellie’s parents, and Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin–a world-renowned scientist now living in the body of a 14-year-old boy (thanks to the events in The Fourteenth Goldfish). Technically the plot of The Third Mushroom is self-contained. However, the premise that exists at the beginning of this story (that Ellie’s grandfather has the body of a 14-year-old boy) might be a difficult one to accept without the history and context provided by the first book, The Fourteenth Goldfish.

The Third Mushroom revolves around Ellie and her grandfather creating an experiment that has completely unexpected results. Ellie and Melvin each take these results in different directions, unwittingly in search of the same thing.  Their journeys involve accepting limits and facts that don’t fit the circumstances in the way they’d like and how to navigate life in the wake of this realization. The Third Mushroom is a little quieter and more introspective than the first book in all the best ways.

Ellie sums it up when she says:

Then, of course, there are friends who defy classification. Like my grandfather…

Because he taught me that failure is okay. That experimentation is important in science.

And in life.

Reading The Third Mushroom felt like a warm, cozy visit with good friends; I loved revisiting the characters of Ellie and Melvin. Although structurally the story stands on its own, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t read The Fourteenth Goldfish first. This story is a great companion to a unit teaching the scientific method, or critical thinking and how to apply either (or both) in real life situations. I won’t recommend The Third Mushroom to students who haven’t read The Fourteenth Goldfish –but I WILL recommend reading them both in order.


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