Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Belly Up

Middle Grade Author Shannon Whitney Messenger began Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays a while back. If you love middle grade literature, check out her blog for a list of other sites featuring MG books.

Today I’ll talk about Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs.

From Goodreads: 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 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!

From Vicki: I really wanted to read this one because of the connection to Africa. Teddy grew up until now in the Congo. And I’ve loved mysteries since I was a kid. And I have a soft spot for wildlife conservation.

First off, I love this cover even though it’s a little teensy bit morbid for young readers. Then again, the book is a little teensy bit morbid, so the cover absolutely does its job. This is a mystery with twists and turns and interesting facts about animals. Teddy has had an unusal childhood, enough to make any young reader envious. There’s action and excitement and tension. An unusual element to this story is how many adults there are. This is a rather grown-up story, in fact, with two kids – who happen to be the only kids – in the main roles.

I made the mistake of letting A-Read read this before I did and he discovered three instances of inappropriate language that he marked with yellow sticky notes according to his teacher’s instructions. He marks anything that makes him think or that he thinks is funny or that makes him wonder. One word my 8-year-old thought was inappropriate was frigging, another was hell, the third was a**, all used by adults in the story.

My son enjoyed learning about animals and he liked the story. Luckily, he’s the kind of kid who doesn’t repeat the bad words he hears or sees. However, I wouldn’t recommend this for 8-year-olds. Maybe 10 and up.

What do you think about that sort of language in a MG book? How about a MG book full of adults? Are you willing to look past the negatives to read a great mystery?




Filed under Reading

13 responses to “Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Belly Up

  1. I really enjoyed this book! I thought it was probably more suited to the higher age of middle grade readers, but the language didn’t phase me. I think those things probably stand out to readers (who know when they see a “bad” word), but I don’t think it’s a turn-off for them. I think most of them find it to be a delicious secret within the book they’re reading (“Whoa! A swear word!”)~ not to glorify naughty words or anything. And you’re right~ it’s definitely unusual to have a MG book so full of adults, but I think this one worked. I think I remember a couple of the adult characters being cartoonish/funny enough that they fit right in 🙂

  2. This is going on my tbr list. Sounds like something I will enjoy and I’m curious about the bad words.

  3. I think it’s imperative to use “good” language in MG. I don’t like to see swears and such.

    Nice review!

  4. Catherine Johnson

    You know how much I love zoo animals, Vicki. Can’t wait to read this!

  5. The books sounds unique. Unfortunately I’d get a lot of flak from 5th graders’ parents if it has that language element. That sort of bumps it up to Jr. High for me.

  6. This really does sound like a fun read. I haven’t seen a god new kid’s mystery in a while. I do wonder why Stuart Gibbs chose to include the inappropriate language. It seems that some people like to justify doing something like this by saying that “Kids have to learn some time,” or that “It’s everywhere on TV, so what’s the big deal?” I reject such justifications as lame and weak. Parents alone get to decide what’s appropriate, and an author does not get to tell them what is ok. This is a shame, because it sounds like a fun book, and I do like the cover. If my sons were still MG readers, I would not let them read this.

  7. This looks like a great one. My son has read a lot of upper MG and some YA (he’s 10) and less severe cussing doesn’t bother me. I can’t shield him from everything in this world, and we talk a lot about this stuff. He’ll even point out the bad stuff so I know it’s there.

  8. Thanks for the review of Belly Up.

  9. Hmm, frigging sounds a bit much for a book aimed at readers that young. But I’m all for not censoring readership by age. It sounds like a fun book! I’d like to be able to write something quirky like this someday.

  10. Pingback: Susanna’s Valentine contest! « Catherine Johnson

  11. Thanks for posting this review. Sounds a wonderful, quirky story!

  12. This book looks absolutely wonderful! And idk about the language – for an eight year old, no. But a middle grader – I wouldn’t sweat those words too much. Trust me, they are hearing way worse in the hallways.

  13. Hi Vicki, had to stop by because of your cool name! Maybe they ran out of the letter combination “er” when they got around to me.

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