Tag Archives: children’s literature

Diving into “The Neptune Project”

15 Sep

The Neptune Project

Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee The Neptune Project left me with a funny taste in my mouth, and not just from imagining the fish-flavored power bars the genetically altered children eat as they adjust to life underwater.

Overall, the book is an extremely captivating read. Author Polly Holyoke has created a clever new twist on the dystopian novel by setting it underwater. A group of children discover early in the book that their parents allowed them to be genetically altered with fish genes that allow them to escape the Orwellian chaos above ground and create a new world as the first humans to live under the sea.

Nere, the book’s protagonist, has always wondered why her eyes don’t see well on land, and why a short run has her wheezing. She finds out when her mother tells her that thanks to some fancy gene-splicing, she’s been growing in readiness for her transformation. Obviously, Nere has some mixed feelings about this. She loves the dolphins she’s been training all her life, but she is still resentful at being a real-life little mermaid experiment.

If the book had stuck to that theme, as Nere battles her feelings about her parents and the project and must become a leader to the group of similarly-spliced children as they escape from both sharks and human predators, I would have been thrilled with its inclusion as a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.

But Nere is also caught in the middle of a developing love triangle between  Dai, the loner renegade of the undersea group, and Tobin, the group’s caring and gentle medic. In one scene towards the end, she swims off with Dai for what turns to a session of kissing in the reef. Dai gets a little too rough, and has to break away to chill his gills, and this great read suddenly turns into 50 shades of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.

Being a Bluebonnet nominee means this book is being talked up in nearly every elementary-school library in the state, and therein lies my problem. The love interest sub-plot isn’t necessary for the story, and really doesn’t need to be part of a book targeted to elementary schoolers. A crush is one thing. Getting crushed up against the reef by an uncontrolled kiss is another, and it will keep me from enthusiastically recommending this one to my 4th graders.

For older grades, though, the book has lots to recommend, and the Bluebonnet Award committee has put together some great links and resources for students whose appetite for more infomation is whetted — or “wetted” — by the undersea adventure.

The Neptune Project Resource Page

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Holy Bagumba! Kate DiCamillo Pens Another Winner

13 Sep

Flora & Ulysses

Ulysses the squirrel’s day is off to a sucky start — thanks a super-powered vacuum that has run amok and pulled him in tail first. Fortunately for him, Flora, a quirky lover of comic books and a self-proclaimed cynic, is watching out the window and rushes to administer mouth-to-squirrel resuscitation.

When Ulysses comes to, he has incredible new superpowers and a new friend for life. He also has a new arch-nemesis, Flora’s mother, who says her daughter’s furry friend has to go. But a squirrel with super-strength, flying abilities, and a penchant for writing poetry is not easily vanquished.

DiCamillo, best known for the Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie, won the 2014 Newbury Award for Flora & Ulysses, a hilarious and smart book targeted to readers in grades 4-6. The rich vocabulary makes it a challenging independent read for some students in this age group, but it makes a great read-aloud. I giggled as much as my 4th-grade students when we were reading, and by the end of the book, we had all added “Holy Bagumba!” to our classroom lexicon.

The book is one of the 2014-1015 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominees, and the award committee has compiled a great list of resources and recommendations to help your readers get even more out of the book.  Check them out here: Flora & Ulysses Bluebonnet Page.

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