A Modern, Yet Classic Story For Kids
You know how, when you’re eating something you love, you first gobble it up at top speed and then examine your plate for crumbs?
I felt exactly like that when I read Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. This adventure story for kids moves at such a pace, and is written so brilliantly, that I shot through it almost at the speed of light. When it ended, I turned back to the first page of this story for kids and began reading it again — slowly, this time, savouring every word. All while feeling incredibly, wildly, inexpressibly happy.
Rooftoppers is about Sophie, who was found as a 1-year-old baby, floating in a cello case amid the debris of a ship wrecked in the English Channel. Her fellow passenger and rescuer, the scholar Charles Maxim, becomes her guardian.
Though Sophie knows she can have no better guardian than Charles, that’s not how the child welfare authorities see it. Charles allows Sophie to wear pants, not dresses. Charles is absent-minded about healthy meals. Charles teaches Sophie her lessons when he remembers to (and Sophie often forgets to remind him).
But Charles teaches Sophie other things — such as, never ignore a possible. When someone says something is almost impossible, he tells Sophie, it means it’s still possible. One of the possibles Sophie clings to is that her mother is still alive, even though there were absolutely no female survivors from the wrecked ship. Sophie hopes to find her one day.
In the meantime, Charles loves Sophie, and Sophie loves Charles. But bureaucracies don’t understand love. After a home inspection when Sophie turns 12, the welfare authorities insist on moving Sophie to an orphanage. Furious, because there seems no way for her to stay with Charles, Sophie kicks the old cello case to bits. And that’s when she finds a clue: the address of the shop in Paris that sold the cello. This could be it! Paris is possibly where her mother might be.
So, they run away to Paris, Sophie and Charles, where they meet some very unhelpful people — worse, even, than the welfare authorities in London. But Sophie also meets some of the strangest people in the world: the rooftoppers. In other countries, they’d be called street children. But in France, where homelessness is a crime, these children live secret lives on the roofs of Paris buildings, with the city at their feet. And that’s where the adventure begins. With new friends Matteo, Anastasia, Safi and Gerard, Sophie is really mother-hunting at last – but is there really a mother to hunt?
Rooftoppers is an amazing story for kids: modern in its attitudes, but classic in its feel. It’s funny and sad, charming and frightening, heartbreaking and comforting. Slightly subversive, but strong in values. And above all, absolutely brilliantly written. You’ll be swept away by the words, and then, when you re-read it to make sure you haven’t missed a single sentence, you’ll be swept away again.
This isn’t a book for small children, but kids 10 and older will love it. As for me, I’m going back for thirds. I want to be certain I haven’t missed a crumb.