Monday, March 13, 2017

MMGM: The Upside of Down

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

The Upside of Down, by Dawn Malone
The Upside of Down
Written by Dawn Malone
Cover by MJC Imageworks

Dawn Malone, 2016
Ages 8-12, 248 pages

Homelessness, Runaways, Charity

      Crawdad fires the football like a rocket launcher. It whistles like a missile in my direction, and I leap to catch it, but it only brushes my fingertips, being a good two feet over my head. The ball sails across the empty lot as if it's heading for tomorrow, but before it changes time zones, the huge blue spruce hugging the corner of the abandoned Rainbow Candy Factory stops it. There's a whoosh as the tree's dense branches catch it. I turn just in time to see it disappear inside.
       Everyone groans.
       "I ain't getting' that," Webby Smith announces right off the bat. He jams his hands on his hips, challenging anyone to tell him otherwise.
       "Me neither," says Crawdad. Scratching his head, he glances my way. "Did you bring your other ball, Hobbs?"
       I shrug. "Not this time, man. Sorry."
       DeShaun Richard's mouth drops open. "What do you mean asking him for another ball?" he says pointing at Crawdad. "You threw my ball in there. We're not gonna just forget about it. You go get it."
       Crawdad backs up and crosses his arms. No one wants anything to do with the tree.

When a homeless runaway enters Hobbs's picture-perfect life, he struggles to understand his own values and to control the chaos that ripples from his actions.

Told from alternating perspectives, this book is well-crafted. One of those books you find yourself speeding through like a runaway train. The theme asks some intense questions about homelessness, our view of others, and what we are willing to do to change the world (or at least, our world.) But it is not heavy or overly depressing or melodramatic. Once again, the author proves she has a firm grip on voice. The writing gets tricky when the two POVs finally collide. I admit to losing track of the narrator once or twice in those chapters, but that might have been because I felt myself racing through the text, eager to see what would happen. Aside from a few writerly nit-picks, it is a thoroughly good read. I'd love to see it in every middle school classroom and I consider it a must-read at home. My favorite book so far this year.

I was disappointed with the book's cover. The boy pictured is probably supposed to be Up, who is Latino. We could use more kids of Latin-American descent on our covers.

1. I read Dawn Malone's first book, Bingo Summer, last year. It was a terrific, light, summer read. Highly recommended.
Bingo Summer, by Dawn Malone
Cover by McCorkle Creations

2. I had a hard time finding comparable books. I found some for older readers, some for younger. Most books on runaways were from the perspective of a kid who'll eventually find themselves back home. Most of the books on homelessness were about families living in shelters or their cars, none who chose to be homeless. There were plenty of books on foster kids which came up during my search. If Dawn's book is as unique as it seems, I hope many of the MMGM readers will read it and help it circulate.

I haven't read the books below, but they seem to have a similar take on the themes in The Upside of Down. Also try Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.

Can't Get There From Here,
by Todd Strasser
Cover by Greg Stadnyk
Run, Zan, Run, by Cathy MacPhail

3. Other MMGM reviewers recommend books with similar themes:

Almost Home, by Joan Bauer
Reviews by The Hopeful Heroine, Mrs. Yingling Reads, and Michael on Middle Grade Mafioso.

How To Steal A Dog, by Barbara O'Connor
Reviews by Joanne from My Brain On Books and Barbara.

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate
Reviewed by Greg of Always in the Middle, Andrea, and Karen.

On Children's Books Heal, Barbara has posted a slew of books on the subject including
Ivy Homeless in San Francisco, by Summer Brenner
Soul Moon Soup, by Linsay Lee Johnson

3. For what you and your students can do about homelessness, see
Talking to Kids About Homelessness on The Huffington Post
Help Your Kids Help the Homeless on Today's Christian Woman
7 Rules for Talking to the Homeless on Operation Warm
and visit StandUp For Kids, and organization which aims to end the cycle of homelessness and help street kids.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for March 13, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?


  1. Thanks for all of the super recommendations. I had not come across THE UPSIDE OF DOWN but have added it to my list of books to read. The opening pulled me right in.

    1. I have really enjoyed Dawn's writing and can't wait for her next release. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for this review. I hadn't heard of the book. And thanks for the shout-out for my review of HOW TO STEAL A DOG. Have you read ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER? Also about homelessness. Plus, Melissa Sarno has a book coming out in 2018 called NEXT TO NOTHING, about a girl living in a homeless shelter with her mother and sister. I'm thrilled for Melissa and can't wait to read the book.

    1. Thanks very much.
      Here's a link to Ann Haywood Leal's AKA Harper
      And Melissa's upcoming book, evidently previously titled Just Under the Clouds

  3. Humph. The cover is definitely disappointing. I'm glad it talks about important issues though! And asking hard questions that we don't want to but need to answer.

    1. I hope you like it as much as I did. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I'm always searching for books about homeless kids. Thanks for sharing the longer opening as it really draws you into the story right away. Excellent review and activity links. Have you read IVY HOMELESS IN SAN FRANCISCO? It's a great homeless story too. I enjoyed seeing other recommend books. Thank you!

    1. You had an impressive list on your blog. I'm looking forward to reading some of them, including IVY HOMELESS IN SAN FRANCISCO. Thanks.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!