Three Times Lucky

Eleven years ago, Moses “Mo” LoBeau washed ashore in Tupelo’s Landing, North Carolina. This child, who was washed away from her Upstream Mother in a hurricane, was rescued by the memory-impaired, cantankerous Colonel and Miss Lana, and the three of them made a life for themselves in this small coastal town.

Now, eleven years later, Mo is a rising sixth grader who works part-time in the restaurant run by the Colonel and Miss Lana. (Her specialty seems to be peanut butter on Wonder Bread.) She spends most of her spare time researching who and where her Upstream Mother might be, and she enjoys hanging out with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. (The “III” is for the iconic #3 car of his namesake.)

This summer, however, things are being stirred up in Tupelo’s Landing, and Mo takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. One of the restaurant’s customers has been killed, a cop is asking questions about Mo’s beloved Colonel, and strange things are afoot in the town Mo calls home. What else is a precocious girl to do? Mo and Dale open up their own detective agency–Desperado Detectives–and begin investigating the crime.

What these junior detectives find, though, may just change everything they know about the people they’re closest to. What secrets are hiding in Tupelo’s Landing? And how can Mo and Dale discover the truth when the police can’t?

As Mo and Dale come closer and closer to solving the biggest mystery to hit Tupelo’s Landing since Mo herself washed ashore, they’ll learn just what family and friendship really mean. When waters get rough, it becomes clear who’ll be there for them, and even Mo might be surprised by who has her back. Join Mo LoBeau on her journey to the truth when you read Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award!

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Belly Up

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs is a nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award and takes place at a zoo/theme park called FunJungle in central Texas.  Now, at first glance, this theme park is the ultimate vacation destination.  Really cool animals, Disney-esque merchandising, and loads of family fun.  But something isn’t quite right at this attraction, and our main character is about to find himself in his own kind of zoo…one that could endanger his very life.

Teddy Fitzroy, a kid who spent his first ten years in the Congo, basically lives at FunJungle…which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds.  His mom works with the primates there, and his dad is a wildlife photographer.  While they’re busy with their jobs, Teddy spends his days wandering around the park…and getting up to a little trouble (like arming chimpanzees with water balloons).

When Henry the Hippo–FunJungle’s star attraction, mascot, and all-around bad-tempered animal–ends up “belly up,” Teddy is immediately suspicious.  He smells something rotten…and it’s more than a dead hippo.  Teddy begins investigating the death on his own, and he quickly discovers that more is going on at FunJungle that he ever realized.  With the help of the zoo owner’s daughter, Summer, Teddy learns that lots of people wanted Henry dead, and whoever killed Henry may now have a new target…Teddy.

Teddy’s been asking lots of questions, and he may be getting too close to the truth for comfort, so someone is doing everything they can to shut him up.  Teddy is scared, but he’s also determined to uncover the truth about what happened to Henry the Hippo…and several other animals that have died under mysterious circumstances.  He doesn’t know who he can trust, but he does know that it’s up to him to uncover the truth before anyone else–animal or human–is harmed.  Can Teddy discover who’s behind the mayhem at FunJungle, or will he be the next one to go “belly up?”  Read Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs to solve the mystery!

Belly Up is a fun, quick read for any reader who enjoys mysteries or stories involving animals.  While reading, I learned a lot of interesting facts about zoo animals that I’d never known before, and I think my students will find these facts as fascinating as I did.  I think it would be awesome to combine this book with the ever-present animal research projects that my fourth grade students do each year.  Many animals are mentioned in this book–some I’d never heard of–so it would be really cool to have students research each animal that was mentioned.  It would make the book come even more alive for young readers.

The mystery in Belly Up kept me guessing the entire way through.  Just like Teddy, I didn’t know which characters could be trusted, and the outcome of the book was a complete surprise to me.  The ending of the book, in particular, was filled with twists and turns that most readers will not see coming.  I love it when that happens.  Predictable stories tend to be boring and lose my interest fast.  That didn’t happen with Belly Up.

I’ll be recommending this book to all of my third-fifth grade students, and I think this book would be a great addition to middle school libraries as well.  If you’d like more information about this book and others by Stuart Gibbs, visit http://stuartgibbs.com/.