Belly Up

by Stuart Gibbs
ages: 10+
First sentence: “I’d just been busted for giving the chimpanzees water balloons when I first heard something was wrong at Hippo River.”
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Teddy Fitzroy has had a charmed life. The son of a gorilla researcher and a nature photographer, he’s spent most of his life surrounded by animals in the Congo.

Now, at age 12, he’s found himself smack in the middle of the Texas Hill Country, at FunJungle, the worlds biggest, best, and newest zoo. It’s supposed to be state-of-the art, best researchers, finest environments for the animals, a whole safari experience without having to go to Africa. Except, Henry the Hippo — the mascot, and a huge, ornery, animal — has turned up (literally) dead. It looks like natural causes at first, but upon a closer look, it turns out that Henry was murdered. And it seems it’s up to Teddy (and his new friend, Summer, who is also the daughter of the park owner) to figure out who did it and why.

There’s adventure as Teddy and Summer try to unravel the mystery before them, with some close scrapes. It’s not so hard of a mystery that the reader can’t at least try to figure it out, but not so easy as to be predictable. It’s entertaining, and yet with all the animals, it kind of feels (I’m hoping it is at least) a little educational. If anything, it has a fabulous balance to it: well-written and engaging plus entertaining and kid-friendly.

Quite enjoyable, in other words.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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