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.

Library Bootcamp

Reach out to your incoming 6th graders now and help them develop the library skills they need by creating a library book camp, reel them in to your teen services program and really catch their attention.  In the fitness world, boot camps are popular – so let’s take it a step further and help teens get fit minds, too. 

This is a great way to transition younger users to your new teen services and area, to get them invested in the program by helping them know how to navigate the area, and to let them meet teen services staff and start building those essential relationships.  This is a fun way to make sure teens learn basic information literacy skills. 

Getting Organized:
Determine what you want teens to take away from your boot camp.  I recommend the following 3 basic areas (think stations on an obstacle course to keep with the boot camp theme):  Navigating your teen area, Navigating the catalog, Navigating your library databases.

Enlist the help of staff, you’ll need a lot to make this work.  You will need at least 1 staff member for to be the instructor for each obstacle course station and you will need about 3 platoon captains so you can divide the students that come that day into 3 platoons to alternate between the stations.  So we’re talking a minimum of 6 unless the teachers bring assistants to lead the teens from station to station.

Pick a time, I recommend the first 2 hours that you are open so that there are less people in the library to be disturbed and there are more open Pacs.  I also recommend setting a finite window that teachers can sign up for, which will depend upon the number of schools you serve.  When you send out your packets to the teachers be sure to indicate that they can call from x amount of time to y to sign up for spots at 9 am during the weeks of September 6 – 30, for example.

Get an advertising packet together:  Write a letter explaining to your teachers what you are trying to accomplish, what the benefit is for the schools and the students, and highlight how it can provide curriculum support.  In addition to a letter, put together a very attractive, very visual brochure to sell the bootcamp to the teachers and administrators.  I recommend both approaches to reinforce the message and reach a wide variety of brain types, some teachers and administrators will respond better to a formal letter while others will embrace the visual.  Always try and communicate your message in multiple ways to reach the greatest number of people, what works for one person will not work for another.

Develop a basic scavenger hunt that will include questions (let’s say 5) from each obstacle course stop.  Put it together in an attractive one page sheet (not too long, you don’t want it to be intimidating or look too much like school work).  During your bootcamp you are not only training your teens on basic library skills, but you are selling yourself (your library and your teen services program) by showing that the library is fun.

How it will work:
When the students come for the day, divide them into 3 groups.  Each group is given a leader who will take them from station to station.

At each station they will be given a basic overview and then an opportunity to explore and do hands on activities that will allow them to answer the questions on the scavenger hunt sheet.  You are looking at 20 minutes per station.  Plus a 10 minute introduction and a 10 minute wrap up, minimum. 

After the teens have rotated through all 3 stations, get everyone together and share the correct answers.

Don’t let them leave empty handed:  Have a raffle for arcs or leftover SRC prizes that you have hanging around, hand out bookmarks and fliers for upcoming events (be sure to have one coming up soon after their visit).

Sample Boot Camp Questions:
What is the call number for Twilight?  How many different formats is it available in?
Tell me the name of a graphic novel series available in the teen area?
What library database would you use if you needed a magazine article on social media?
How many items in the library have the word “zombie” in the title?  What is the most recent addition?
I need to know how to survive the zombie apocalypse, is there a handbook for that?
Name an author who writes both adult and teen novels.
How many posters are on the wall in the teen area?
Name an upcoming teen program?

This is the layout I did for a 30 day online scavenger hunt.  You can do the same type of layout for Bootcamp Bingo.

I can’t take credit for this idea myself, it is an adaptation of an awesome program put together by the staff at Washington Centerville Library in Ohio and from my time working with them I can tell you that this is a great program.  It may take a couple of years to get all your teachers on board and fill up your slots (and work out the kinks), but don’t give up – it is worth it.

You can also set this program up as a once a month program with open sign up to get all the teens in your community trained in library skills.  Have a monthly or quarterly library bootcamp.

Note: I picked 6th grade but it may be 7th grade for some libraries, depending on how your program is defined and arranged and how your local schools are arranged.