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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Henry the hippo is dead. Yes, the signature denizen of America's newest and largest zoo has been found belly up in his highly, uh, unsanitary habitat (hippos are extraordinarily regular in their habits, so to speak). But there's worse to come when 12-year-old Teddy begins to suspect it's murder most foul and in the fine tradition of mysteries for youth sets out to solve the crime by himself. Well, he does have some help from beautiful Summer, the 13-year-old daughter of the zoo's fantastically wealthy owner. Who could have dunnit? Large Marge, the surly security guard who has a cold spot in her heart for Teddy? Charlie Connor, the midget clown who's hated Henry ever since the testy hippo took a bite out of him? Or could it be a guerrilla act perpetrated by the anti-zoo Animal Liberation Front? First-novelist Gibbs offers no shortage of suspects in his fast-paced story, which deftly mixes humor and suspense. Cleverly plotted aside from one hippo-sized deus ex machina moment this book is an auspicious debut that will leave readers clamoring for more.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2010 Booklist