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Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell – Review

Rooftoppers, (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 8-12) by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan, is reviewed today both conventionally and unconventionally by Hilary Taber.

How to Live Just Below the Sky:

Rooftoppers is by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Rooftoppers is by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Sophie is a young girl with quite a past. Imagine if your life story began like this, “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.” Yet, that is precisely where, after a terrible shipwreck, Sophie found herself. Luckily enough, Charles Maxim found Sophie and became her guardian. Charles, a scholar, was on board the ship the night it sank. Since neither Sophie’s mother or father were thought to survive the wreck, Charles took her home.  Charles takes care of Sophie very well in many ways, yet a few social workers feel that a young lady like Sophie should be receiving a more proper education than she is getting from a mere bachelor.

A vital clue to Sophie’s parentage comes to the surface right when Charles is almost certain that he will loose Sophie to the buttoned-up views of Miss Eliot, the a social worker assigned to Sophie’s case. Miss Eliot is determined to see that Sophie is put in an orphanage.  Charles and Sophie decide to pursue the clue they find and that leads them to Paris! Only in Paris will they will find aid in their search from a very mysterious group of children. These children would have most certainly gone to orphanages if they had not chosen a life lived almost solely on the rooftops of Paris to escape the notice of interfering adults like Miss Eliot. Rooftoppers won starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly. This is simply a book that is not to be missed!

Now, let me mention here that I watched a video of the author addressing a young audience about reviewing her book for The Guardian in order to enter their young critics competition. In this YouTube video, Ms. Rundell asks that the review might be a little different, because the characters in this book, as the author says, “…do life slightly differently.”

How cool is it that she’s up on a roof?! Very cool!

So, even though this message was for a much younger reviewer than I currently am, I feel up to that challenge! Let the untraditional part of the review begin below!

If this book tasted like anything it would taste like dark chocolate. This book can’t be gulped down precisely because of all the lovely writing, even though you want to because of all the adventure. The wonderful, velvet-as-the-night-sky writing makes it less like candy you gobble down, and more like dark chocolate that you savor one piece at a time.

If this book sounded like anything it would sound like a cello and a violin playing together, just like when Charles and Sophie are together. However, Charles sounds like Yo-Yo Ma playing Ennio Morricone #The Mission – Gabriel’s Oboe.

If this book/plot could smell like anything it would smell deep like chocolate and fresh like mint. However, it would have a tinge of smoke as well.

If this book could look like anything it would look just exactly like the cover art, which is a wonderful thing to know if you are at all drawn to the book by the cover. Also it might look like this:

VanGogh-starry night ballance1
Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night via Wikimedia Commons

Who I liked best and why

I believe that Charles is one of my favorite bachelors in all of children’s literature. Children’s literature is so full of wonderful adult characters, but Charles pulls at my heartstrings because he has a true gift of making sure that Sophie has her eye on the important things in life. Charles, the author writes, “…had kindness where other people had lungs, and politeness in his fingertips.” Charles is wonderfully caring about all the important things, while being at the same time so wonderfully uncaring about the things children usually get scolded about that are so unimportant. Sophie climbs trees, learns the capitals of every country in the world, and is taught important things by Charles such as, “It’s the things you read at the age you are now that stick. Books crowbar the world open for you.” He never wastes breath on things like, for example, the jam that is spilt down Sophie’s shirt when they are on their way to a concert for her birthday. You have to love a character like that.

What I liked best and why:

1) The Concept of the Rooftoppers

Sophie and Charles make an odd pair of runaways as they flee London to Paris, but compared to the tribe of rooftoppers they meet they are practically normal. These rooftop-dwelling children are wonderfully drawn characters. I’m reminded of Peter Pan when I read about them, but these children seem more real than Peter Pan ever did. They really do live on window ledges, drainpipes, rooftops, and just below the sky. Not having the ability to fly, but equally as homeless as Peter Pan ever was in this world, they have made a gritty Neverland of their own. The more I read this book the more I believed that it could be possible to evade most of the world by living on roofs, and certainly these children are trying to do just that. They are trying to avoid the social workers, and to live free from orphanages just like Sophie. The more I read about how hard, but wondrous it could be, the more I understood why Sophie could be drawn to knowing more about such a life.

2) Dizzy spells while reading a book? Cool!

I admit that my hands became a little shaky sometimes while holding the book every time someone jumped from one roof to another or even when that option was up for discussion between the characters, but it only added a sense of adventure to the whole scene. Adventure should leave you feeling a little dizzy and/or shaky, so I’m okay with that.

3) Matters of Importance

All in all, it was a book that spoke to my heart about all the things I always had sensed were the most important, and it did that poetically. Love, trust, music, mothers, and books are some of the most important things in life. I had always believed that this must be true, and it is nice to be reminded of that in passages like this one, “Mothers are a thing you need, like air, she thought, and water. Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath.”

How was that, Ms. Rundell? I have to admit that this type of reviewing took more time, but I think it was worth it. Rooftoppers is a wonderful book that you simply must read right away!

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