Look at the cute cover on the left. Isn't the hippo sweet? No, the cover isn't upside down. That's a dead hippo. A mean dead hippo, at that. In Stuart Gibbs' Belly Up, a Cybils Middle Grade Novel finalist, a Ross Perot type zillionaire builds a mega-zoo/theme park in the middle of Texas (well, I think it's east of the middle, fairly near San Antonio maybe) when his daughter complains of the lack of good safaris for seven year olds. They need a hippo for their mascot, and the one they found is a nasty, projectile-pooping bully who floats up dead one day. And our hero Teddy, son of two big game experts, learns that this was no accident -- it was hippocide. And that the rich daughter (now thirteen) will join him in an investigation, which is nice because she's also cute.
Warning -- use your imagination selectively here. Gibbs has no hesitation in revealing the grossest parts of nature, and his vivid language lets you fill in as much as you like. I often deliberately stifled my brain so that I didn't get the full impression of the swim in pools made murky with hippo excrement, or the olfactory rainbow of the hippo dissection, or ... (I kindly drop the curtain). But most of the trip spent solving crime with Teddy and Summer sparkles with animation and minor boyish angst (does she like me? was that last text lame?). It's off with my sixth grader now, but I don't think the fourth grader would get through it speedily enough. B+