“Poached” by Stuart Gibbs is a middle school kid-friendly mystery on steroids! The second in Gibbs’ FunJungle series, Teddy Fitzroy continues to run amok while being accused of stealing Kazoo the koala. The book rocks with slapstick comedy, unexpected twists, complex characters, and loads of suspects. Gibbs seamlessly includes an abundance of interesting info on animals in the context of the fictional FunJungle, a state of the art animal theme park/zoo.
Why is this a significantly improved follow-up to the original, “Belly Up?” First, the author now steers clear of profanity, which is totally unnecessary in a kids’ book. Second, we follow Teddy as he actually leaves FunJungle to attend school (OK, the other book took place during the summer break), where a bullying gang selects him as a prime target. The school setting allows Gibbs to both strengthen his characters and introduce topics of interest to middle schoolers, including cliques and crushes. Vance and his twin accomplices (cleverly named TimJim) coerce Teddy into pranking at FunJungle, although Teddy has always been quite mischievous without any pressure. Another improvement in Poached is the author’s deemphasis on the weight of characters. The first book made fun of obesity, which is a no-no in my opinion. Teddy’s parents do a lot more than just listen to him in this second mystery; not only are their jobs are on the line if Teddy has poached Kazoo but they are acting more like responsible adults. Finally, Gibbs has amped up his clever array of suspects, keeping us in suspense until the very end.
I used the first book as a read-aloud with a lot of on-the-spot editing, but wouldn’t have any qualms about this book in the hands of middle schoolers. It’s a 5-star read with a very satisfying conclusion.