Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPIB: The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke (a guest post)

Come explore “beneath the surface” of the waves with The Neptune Project, my new undersea adventure story about a group of geneticallyaltered teens fighting to survive in the sea. Voya claims the book “revels in the beauty of the underwater world and the creatures that inhabit it.”

I’m thrilled with that description because I did want to share my love of the ocean with young readers. Growing up in land-locked Colorado, I was always fascinated by the sea even though I rarely got to see it. Eventually I became a scuba diver, and I finally had a chance to explore that amazing world firsthand. Now I take my dive gear along with me on school visits because students are so intrigued by it. I’m not sure most parents realize that children as young as 11 or 12 can get certified to dive and start exploring the sea themselves (with proper supervision)!

I loved doing research for The Neptune Project. Before I started to write this story, I read dozens of books on oceanography and dolphins. I also talked with marine biologists, dolphin trainers and dive masters. But my favorite research, by far, was swimming with dolphins. My family and I swam with domesticated dolphins in Florida, and I went snorkeling with wild spinner dolphins in Hawaii. I’ll never forget seeing and listening to dozens of spinners swimming beneath me, squeaking and whistling happily to each other as they flowed through the bright blue sea.

In my story, dolphins become characters in their own right as they protect my heroine and her companions on their dangerous journey north to a new undersea colony. The book is full of non-stop action because the Neptune kids have to fight sharks, giant squid and divers from a repressive government determined to catch them.

The Neptune Project is the story of Nere Hanson, a shy, unconfident girl who inadvertently becomes a leader. I had hoped the book would appeal to girls, but I’m also finding out that boys love it, too. Because the book contains so much action and excitement, it’s also a strong selection for reluctant readers.


“Almost every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, forcing the reader to flip the page for more. In addition, the book revels in the beauty of the underwater world and the creatures that inhabit it. The relationship between the teenagers and the dolphins—who actually become characters themselves—is especially well crafted. There is even a touch of romance when Nere becomes the object of a romantic rivalry between two boys—quiet, reliable Tobin and sarcastic, daring Dai. With both romance and adventure, The Neptune Project will attract male and female readers.”—Cheryl Clark for Voya

“This suspenseful undersea dystopia should keep middle schoolers hooked.” Kirkus Reviews


Below are some discussion questions and a Scavenger Hunt put together by The Neptune Project author Polly Holyoke for a ready made program you can use.

Discussion Questions for The Neptune Project

1. What if someone said that you HAD to start living in the sea tomorrow? What aspects of living in the ocean would you enjoy? What aspects would you hate?

2. What is life on land like for Nere and her classmates before she goes into the sea? What events or factors, do you suppose, may have led to the wars and climate disasters that have clearly taken place since our time?

3. Reviewers claim that The Neptune Projectvividly depicts the world under the waves. Is there anything that surprised you about that world?

4. Some of the dolphins in the story can actually communicate with Nere in human words, but only because Mariah was smart enough to pick up human speech when she was young. Do you think some animals do communicate with each other? Do you believe some animals are capable of thinking?

5. Nere, to her surprise, becomes a leader in the course of the story. Do you think she was the right choice? What qualities do you think a good leader should possess?

6. Over 70% percent of our earth’s surface is covered by our oceans and only 95% of those have been fully explored. Would you like to explore them some day?

The Neptune Project Scavenger Hunt

I challenge you to dive in to some ocean explorations of your own. In the course of doing research for The Neptune Project, I came across all sorts of wonderful sites on the Internet where kids can find out more about the sea.

And find out:
1. What does NOAA stand for?
2. How much of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans?

3. How much of our oceans remain unexplored?

And find out:
4. What famous movie director and ocean explorer recently made the deepest solo submarine dive in history?
5. How deep did he dive?
6. Where did he dive?

Go to: http://www.dolphins.org/marineed_anatomy.php
And find out:
7. What is the correct name for a dolphin’s head?
8. What is the correct name for its nose?

Go to: http://www.seaworld.org/animal-info/info-books/bottlenose/communication.htm
And find out:
9. What four kinds of sounds do dolphins make? Make sure you listen to all four recordings. They are super cool and very surprising!

And find out:
10. What are some of the most dangerous and deadly creatures in the sea?

Go to: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/sharks.html
And find out:
11. Why are sharks so susceptible to fishing pressure (over fishing)?

Go to: http://www.pollyholyoke.com/undersea-gallery.php
Try to:
12. Guess at least five sea creatures in the photo gallery of Nere’s undersea world and then list the

CONGRATULATIONS!  You have completed my official Scavenger Hunt!
Do you have extra time on your hands this summer?
And try making one of their cool projects or doing one of their cool experiments!
Answers to Scavenger Hunt:
  1. NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  2. The seas cover approximately 70.1 percent of the earth’s surface, which means much more of our planet is covered by ocean than by land.
  3. NOAA states that 95% of the oceans still hasn’t been explored.
  4. James Cameron
  5. 35,787 ft or 10,908 meters
  6. the Mariana Trench, the deepest known place on Earth
  7. Dolphins’ heads are called “melons.”
  8. Dolphins’ noses are called “rostrums” or “beaks.”
  9. Dolphins make clicking, creaking, and squeaking sounds and buzzing clicks when they communicate and echolocate.
  10. Possible correct answers from this site: striped sturgeonfish, barracudas, yellow sea anemone, moray eel, great white shark, whitespotted sturgeonfish, oyster toadfish, Indonesian needlefish, textile cone snail, saltwater crocodile and sea anemone
  11. Shark populations are so vulnerable to over-fishing because they are long lived, take many years to mature and only have few young at a time.
  12. Possible right answers from this site include: Spanish shawl nudibranch, giant Pacific octopus, humpback whale, anemone/brittlestar, greenback sea turtle, bat ray, spiny lobster, sea otter, golden gorgonian/sea urchin, California sea lion, great white shark, red gorgonian, Pacific white-sided dolphins, angel shark, orange garibaldi, sheephead fish, wolf eel, leopard shark, elephant seal.