One of my favorite vacations ever was in one of the most popular attractions in the world…the San Diego Zoo. I visited my cousin in Southern California a few years ago, and the zoo was, by far, the one thing I wanted to see the most while I was there. I knew it would be crowded, I knew it would be hot, and I knew I would walk so much that my legs would feel like noodles. It was totally worth it. I loved the place. I think animals, especially animals I don’t get to see all that often, are fascinating, and I loved every minute of my day at the zoo.
I’m telling you all of this to introduce my latest read, Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs, a nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Belly Up takes place at a zoo/theme park called FunJungle in central Texas (and it’s not terribly different from the San Diego Zoo). Now, at first glance, this theme park is the ultimate vacation destination. Really cool animals, Disney-esque merchandising, and loads of family fun. But something isn’t quite right at this attraction, and our main character is about to find himself in his own kind of zoo…one that could endanger his very life.
Teddy Fitzroy, a kid who spent his first ten years in the Congo, basically lives at FunJungle…which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. His mom works with the primates there, and his dad is a wildlife photographer. While they’re busy with their jobs, Teddy spends his days wandering around the park…and getting up to a little trouble (like arming chimpanzees with water balloons).
When Henry the Hippo–FunJungle’s star attraction, mascot, and all-around bad-tempered animal–ends up “belly up,” Teddy is immediately suspicious. He smells something rotten…and it’s more than a dead hippo. Teddy begins investigating the death on his own, and he quickly discovers that more is going on at FunJungle that he ever realized. With the help of the zoo owner’s daughter, Summer, Teddy learns that lots of people wanted Henry dead, and whoever killed Henry may now have a new target…Teddy.
Teddy’s been asking lots of questions, and he may be getting too close to the truth for comfort, so someone is doing everything they can to shut him up. Teddy is scared, but he’s also determined to uncover the truth about what happened to Henry the Hippo…and several other animals that have died under mysterious circumstances. He doesn’t know who he can trust, but he does know that it’s up to him to uncover the truth before anyone else–animal or human–is harmed. Can Teddy discover who’s behind the mayhem at FunJungle, or will he be the next one to go “belly up?” Read Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs to solve the mystery!
Belly Up is a fun, quick read for any reader who enjoys mysteries or stories involving animals. While reading, I learned a lot of interesting facts about zoo animals that I’d never known before, and I think my students will find these facts as fascinating as I did. I think it would be awesome to combine this book with the ever-present animal research projects that my fourth grade students do each year. Many animals are mentioned in this book–some I’d never heard of–so it would be really cool to have students research each animal that was mentioned. It would make the book come even more alive for young readers.
The mystery in Belly Up kept me guessing the entire way through. Just like Teddy, I didn’t know which characters could be trusted, and the outcome of the book was a complete surprise to me. The ending of the book, in particular, was filled with twists and turns that most readers will not see coming. I love it when that happens. Predictable stories tend to be boring and lose my interest fast. That didn’t happen with Belly Up.
I’ll be recommending this book to all of my third-fifth grade students, and I think this book would be a great addition to middle school libraries as well. If you’d like more information about this book and others by Stuart Gibbs, visit http://stuartgibbs.com/.