Belly Up: FunJungle, Book 1

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Belly Up: FunJungle, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Clever, action-packed zoo mystery has some graphic parts.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 10 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the inner workings of a zoo, and facts and trivia about various zoo animals, such as hippos and snakes, as well as life in the Congo.

Positive Messages

Belly Up offers positives messages about the humane treatment of animals, scientific research, and the importance of ethics. It also paints a strongly positive view of curiosity, education, and personal integrity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Teddy Fitzroy is smart with great detective skills who's misunderstood and works hard to earn peoples respect. He also has a strong a sense of ethics and cares for the environment and animals. Summer, the zoo owner's daughter, helps Teddy track down clues and learn a lot about zoo animals, ethics, and uncovering the truth. Teddy's dad is a good sounding board in discussions of ethics. 

Violence & Scariness

Belly Up has some minor peril and suspense throughout, and the death of animals. A major plot point is the death -- and subsequent autopsy -- of a hippo. A jaguar also dies and is autopsied. A few wild animals escape their enclosures and threaten or intimidate zoo attendees, though no one's injured. A man punches another man in the nose, and blood splatters. In one particularly graphic scene, an animal's insides explode onto funeral mourners.


"Jesus Christ" and "damn" used in a few instances. There's some insulting language throughout regarding obese female characters as "fat" or "large." There are graphic descriptions of autopsies, animal organs, and their putrefaction. Detailed references to animal pooping habits and smells, and zoo animals using their waste as a weapon. Minor references to farting.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stuart Gibbs's Belly Up is The first book in the six-volume FunJungle series, named after the fictional Texas Zoo where it's set. It's an entertaining and clever mystery novel from about the death of a hippo at a zoo, told from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy. There are graphic descriptions of animals' deaths, autopsies, and detailed descriptions of bowel habits, as well as some crass body function references, and a handful of fat jokes about heavy female characters in the book. A group of mascots who work for the zoo take a smoke break, and later, one of them smokes a cigar while being interviewed and questioned. Overall, the book promotes research, science, education, and adventure, and raises some interesting, complicated questions about ethics and personal integrity in trying to do the right thing. The audio book version of Belly Up for and the whole series is narrated by Gibson Frazier.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMichelle P. March 20, 2018

Not for kids under 14

My 9 year old just finished this book and while he enjoyed it, he reported several curse words and "extensive use of the word crap". He did not feel t... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bycatlover18 February 18, 2020

Don’t bother if you can’t handle gore

I read part of this when I was 10 and I had to stop reading because the hippo autopsy was too much. This is not for people who are grossed out at body parts and... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySunMeadow July 6, 2019

Entertaining & Funny

One of my friends recommended this book to me, and I don't regret reading it! This novel was so addicting - I couldn't put it down! This story takes p... Continue reading

What's the story?

The star animal of FunJungle, Henry the Hippo, has turned up dead. The zoo claims he died of natural causes, but 12-year-old Teddy Fitzroy's convinced there's a better explanation, and a slew of suspects await, all with their own motive: Large Marge hates Teddy. Charlie Conroy was once bitten by Henry. And the Animal Liberation Front could be trying to sabotage the zoo. With the help of zoo owner J.J. McCracken's daughter, Summer, Teddy tracks down clues and learns a lot about zoo animals, ethics, and uncovering the truth in Texas whodunnit style.

Is it any good?

From Stuart Gibbs, the same author who wrote the clever, madcap Spy School and Spy Camp, BELLY UP offers just as much thrill, suspense, and teen boy hilarity, only this time, at a zoo. Here, Teddy Fitzroy's another precocious kid who's misunderstood or whose talents are quite recognized in his particular setting, but who works to earn respect, overcome assumptions, and win the day. There are graphic descriptions here that could be off-putting to the faint of heart, and a few fat jokes that don't quite seem necessary. At times Fitzroy's voice is a bit more adult-like than one might expect from a 12-year-old boy, and the jokes can be a little dated, but this is a fun, engaging read that moves through suspense as if it written for the big screen.

Kids interested in animals, research, or science will find a lot to engage with here, and parents can appreciate a book that continually reasserts the importance of research, ethics, and science in the treatment of animals and dealings within the adult world.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how lying figures in Belly Up. Is lying ever justified? How do Teddy and his dad discuss lying as a last resort to gain entry for research? Do you think that's a good reason to lie? 

  • If you've read other book by Stuart Gibbs, how do you think this one compares? 

  • Do you think zoos are a humane place for animals or an infringement on their rights? Why or why not?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries

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