12 year old Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt Fitzroy has got a murder on his hands and trouble on his tail. Henry, the hippopatamus at the brand-new nationally known FunJungle, has gone belly up. Even though it's claimed he died of natural causes, Teddy smells something fishy and it sure ain't the polar bear's lunch. Dealing with the zoo's top brass proves to be nothing but a waste of time. They want to see any trace of Henry's death disappear like yesterday's paper.
So Teddy sets out to find the truth. With the help of Summer McCraken, a fiesty girl with secrets of her own, the two narrow down their prime suspects. Is it Martin Del Gato, FunJungle's head of operations who hates kids and hates animals even more? Or J.J McCraken, the owner of FunJungle and and hates animals even more? Or J.J McCraken, the owner of FunJungle and Summer's father, who has more concern for the dough he's raking in than the animals in the zoo? As their investigation goes on, Teddy gets squeezed on all sides to quit asking questions or Henry won't be the only animal in the zoo to turn up dead. The deeper Teddy and Summer get, they had better make sure they want to know what they want to know because when it comes to hippo homicide, the truth can't be kept in a cage!
Gr 5-8 Teddy Fitzroy, 12, yearns for a little excitement at FunJungle, an animal theme park in Texas where his parents work. When star attraction Henry the Hippo dies under mysterious circumstances, Teddy is convinced that it was murder. Colorful suspects abound, from Large Marge, the security guard, all the way up to J.J. McCracken himself, billionaire owner of FunJungle. Teddy teams up with J.J.'s daughter to ferret out the culprit even as animal-related accidents begin to threaten his safety. A decomposing hippo disaster denouement will fill young minds with equal amounts of horror and glee. Dense with animal trivia, "Belly Up" will suit attentive readers who love mystery and random facts. Teddy's first-person narration allows readers to solve the mystery along with him, but his voice is oddly adult. The content and expression of his thoughts emerge as extraordinarily calm and rational, far from the typical preteen sensibility. His dialogue sounds much more realistic. Gibbs handles issues of animal welfare in a fair way without being preachy, and his motley cast of characters holds its own with quirky personalities and memorable details. Overall, this first novel brings together suspense, wild chase scenes, and enough character development to hold children's attention, despite a few incongruities. Hand it to fans of Gordon Korman's "Swindle" (Scholastic) and Jody Feldman's "The Gollywhopper Games"(HarperCollins, both 2008).--Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT
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