Rooftoppers

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Overview

“The beauty of sky, music, and the belief in ‘extraordinary things’ triumph in this whimsical and magical tale” (Publishers Weekly) about a girl in search of her past who discovers a secret rooftop world in Paris.

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck that left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is ...

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Overview

“The beauty of sky, music, and the belief in ‘extraordinary things’ triumph in this whimsical and magical tale” (Publishers Weekly) about a girl in search of her past who discovers a secret rooftop world in Paris.

Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck that left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive—but “almost impossible” means “still possible.” And you should never ignore a possible.

So when the Welfare Agency writes to her guardian, threatening to send Sophie to an orphanage, they takes matters into their own hands and flee to Paris to look for Sophie’s mother, starting with the only clue they have—the address of the cello maker.

Evading the French authorities, she meets Matteo and his network of rooftoppers—urchins who live in the hidden spaces above the city. Together they scour the city in a search for Sophie’s mother—but can they find her before Sophie is caught and sent back to London? Or, more importantly, before she loses hope?

Phillip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials series, calls Rooftoppers “the work of a writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A baby found floating in a cello case in the English Channel, and Charles Maxim, a scholar and fellow survivor of a mysterious shipwreck, become an unconventional family, guided by the philosophy that “You should never ignore a possible.” Permissive but caring, Charles lets the baby, whom he names Sophie, write on walls, eat off books, climb things, and indulge in “mother-watching” as the years pass, until unwanted attention from the National Childcare Agency sends them in search of Sophie’s cello-playing mother. In Paris, 12-year-old Sophie takes to the rooftops, guided by irrepressible roof-dweller Matteo, an orphanage escapee who literally shows her the ropes; in one breathtaking scene, he walks her on a tightrope between buildings (“Grip with your toes. Left. Stop. Do not look down”). Eccentric, tactile food imagery appears throughout, from Charles’s pork pie served on the Bible to Matteo’s fresh-cooked rat. While the children’s uncanny survival skills take occasionally graphic turns, as in a brutal fight between rooftopper tribes, the beauty of sky, music, and the belief in “extraordinary things” triumph in this whimsical and magical tale. Ages 8–12. Agent: Claire Wilson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers, like her previous novel The Girl Savage, is the work of a writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination. I admire her novels very much, and I hope they find the success they deserve. I’m certainly looking forward to her next."
BCCB
"Hand this to kids who like their historical fiction with a creative edge."
Phillip Pullman
“Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers, like her previous novel Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, is the work of a writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination. I admire her novels very much, and I hope they find the success they deserve. I’m certainly looking forward to her next."
Children's Literature - Caitlin Marineau
After surviving a shipwreck as an infant and found floating in the English Channel in a cello case, young Sophie has spent the whole of her life being raised by the quirky and intellectual Charles. Sophie and Charles live happily together, devouring books, writing on walls, and never ignoring life's possibilities. Once she turns twelve, however, the state decides that an eccentric bachelor has no ability to raise a proper young woman, and threatens to remove her. Fearful of losing the only family she has known, and raised to believe in the impossible, Sophie convinces Charles to take her to Paris and attempt to find the mother she lost as a baby, never believing that the woman died in the shipwreck as she had always been told. While in Paris, she gains the trust and assistance of a community of children who make the roofs, treetops, and streets of Paris their home. A whimsically elegant tale with a satisfying ending, Rundell's prose beautifully evokes the cities of London and Paris. Filled with memorable characters and an original plot, readers will be charmed by young Sophie's quest as she clamors across the rooftops of Paris. Reviewer: Caitlin Marineau
Kirkus Reviews
"Never ignore a possible." Sophie takes her beloved guardian's words to heart and never gives up on finding her long-lost mother. One-year-old Sophie is found floating in a cello case in the English Channel by Charles Maxim, a fellow passenger on the freshly sunk Queen Mary: "He noticed that it was a girl, with hair the color of lightning, and the smile of a shy person." He decides to keep her. The bookish pair lives a harmonious, gloriously unorthodox life together--she prefers trousers to skirts, knows the collective noun for toads and uses atlases as plates. The National Childcare Agency does not approve, so when a clue in Sophie's cello case links her mother to Paris, Charles and Sophie decide to skip town after her 12th birthday. Once ensconced in her Parisian attic hideaway, Sophie gets a skylight visit from a teenage "rooftopper" named Matteo, who eats pigeons and never, ever descends to street level. Sophie--anxious to help Charles find her mother--secretly joins the boy atop Paris night after night, listening for her cello-playing. Vivid descriptions of fierce kids in survival mode and death-defying rooftop scrambles are breathlessly exciting, as is the bubbling suspense of Sophie's impassioned search for the possible. Brava! This witty, inventively poetic, fairy-tale–like adventure shimmers with love, magic and music. (Adventure. 9-12)
starred review Booklist
* "A glorious adventure…the story is magic."
Wall Street Journal
“Some stories unfurl with such elegant wit that you feel the author must have been smiling constantly while typing away. Such is the case with Katherine Rundell's Rooftoppers, a sparkling and lovely novel."
Philip Pullman
“Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers, like her previous novel Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, is the work of a writer with an utterly distinctive voice and a wild imagination. I admire her novels very much, and I hope they find the success they deserve. I’m certainly looking forward to her next."
Maryrose Wood
"Katherine Rundell's Rooftoppers is a confection of lyrical prose. Bold imaginative leaps carry the reader from one Parisian rooftop to the next in this unique and beautifully written tale of a girl in search of the mother whom everyone else believes is dead."
Sharon Creech
"Rooftoppers drew me in immediately and carried me along straight to the end with its original voice and lively story."
Hilary McKay
"Here comes a classic... Fantastic joyous storytelling. I was entranced. This is the only book I have ever read that made me long to cook sausages on a roof. From the first page onwards I knew I was reading something that sparkled (and it just got brighter and brighter). I'm a bit jealous actually; I wish I'd written it. Gorgeous, witty, kind, amazing, vertigo inducing, breathtaking, utterly charming, loved, loved, loved this little gem of a book. Hold your breath- this book is magic."
starred review School Library Journal
"Rundell’s gentle poetic style gives Sophie’s story a full-heartedness that makes it take flight at times and sweeps readers along with it...Realistic fiction with the feel of fantasy, this atmospheric novel will appeal to a wide range of middle-grade readers."
NYTBR
“Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell’s winsome contribution to the genre, is a throwback, avoiding the hard-boiled life lessons of the modern child’s thriller in favor of the wishful logic of the fairy tale."
School Library Journal
★ 12/01/2013
Gr 4–6—Sophie has been living with her loving guardian, Charles Maxim, for almost all of her 12 years, ever since she was rescued as a baby from a floating cello case after a shipwreck. Charles reads Shakespeare aloud to her, serves her roast potato chips on an open atlas (owing to her penchant for breaking plates), and allows her to wear pants. In this 19th-century world, the Dickensian Miss Eliot, of the National Childcare Agency, decides that Charles is an unfit guardian and that Sophie must become a ward of the state. She and Charles escape to Paris, and it is there that Sophie begins her search for her mother, who, she is convinced, is alive after all and not drowned. Confined for security reasons to an attic room, she begins to explore the rooftops and meets an extraordinary boy, Matteo, who lives and scavenges entirely on the roofs. Life up there is full of dangers, and Sophie's determination to find her mother lands her in some tough situations. Ultimately, however, with the help of Matteo and Charles, her quest comes to a genuinely touching and satisfying conclusion. Rundell's gentle poetic style gives Sophie's story a full-heartedness that makes it take flight at times and sweeps readers along with it. In describing Charles, Rundell writes: "Think of nighttime with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords." Realistic fiction with the feel of fantasy, this atmospheric novel will appeal to a wide range of middle-grade readers.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442490581
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 133,387
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 490L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Katherine Rundell is the author of Rooftoppers and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms. She grew up in Zimbabwe, Brussels, and London, and is currently a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. She begins each day with a cartwheel and believes that reading is almost exactly the same as cartwheeling: it turns the world upside down and leaves you breathless. In her spare time, she enjoys walking on tightropes and trespassing on the rooftops of Oxford colleges.

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Read an Excerpt

Rooftoppers


ON THE MORNING of its First Birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.

It was the only living thing for miles. Just the baby, and some dining room chairs, and the tip of a ship disappearing into the ocean. There had been music in the dining hall, and it was music so loud and so good that nobody had noticed the water flooding in over the carpet. The violins went on sawing for some time after the screaming had begun. Sometimes the shriek of a passenger would duet with a high C.

The baby was found wrapped for warmth in the musical score of a Beethoven symphony. It had drifted almost a mile from the ship, and was the last to be rescued. The man who lifted it into the rescue boat was a fellow passenger, and a scholar. It is a scholar’s job to notice things. He noticed that it was a girl, with hair the color of lightning, and the smile of a shy person.

Think of nighttime with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal cords. Give those things a narrow aristocratic face with hooked eyebrows, and long arms and legs, and that is what the baby saw as she was lifted out of her cello case and up into safety. His name was Charles Maxim, and he determined, as he held her in his large hands—at arm’s length, as he would a leaky flowerpot—that he would keep her.

The baby was almost certainly one year old. They knew this because of the red rosette pinned to her front, which read, 1!

“Or rather,” said Charles Maxim, “the child is either one year old or she has come first in a competition. I believe babies are rarely keen participants in competitive sport. Shall we therefore assume it is the former?” The girl held on to his earlobe with a grubby finger and thumb. “Happy birthday, my child,” he said.

Charles did not only give the baby a birthday. He also gave her a name. He chose Sophie, on that first day, on the grounds that nobody could possibly object to it. “Your day has been dramatic and extraordinary enough, child,” he said. “It might be best to have the most ordinary name available. You can be Mary, or Betty, or Sophie. Or, at a stretch, Mildred. Your choice.” Sophie had smiled when he’d said “Sophie,” so Sophie it was. Then he fetched his coat, and folded her up in it, and took her home in a carriage. It rained a little, but it did not worry either of them. Charles did not generally notice the weather, and Sophie had already survived a lot of water that day.

Charles had never really known a child before. He told Sophie as much on the way home: “I do, I’m afraid, understand books far more readily than I understand people. Books are so easy to get along with.” The carriage ride took four hours; Charles held Sophie on the very edge of his knee and told her about himself, as though she were an acquaintance at a tea party. He was thirty-six years old, and six foot three. He spoke English to people and French to cats, and Latin to the birds. He had once nearly killed himself trying to read and ride a horse at the same time. “But I will be more careful,” he said, “now that there is you, little cello child.” Charles’s home was beautiful, but it was not safe; it was all staircases and slippery floorboards and sharp corners. “I’ll buy some smaller chairs,” he said. “And we’ll have thick red carpets! Although—how does one go about acquiring carpets? I don’t suppose you know, Sophie?”

Unsurprisingly, Sophie did not answer. She was too young to talk, and she was asleep.

She woke when they drew up in a street smelling of trees and horse dung. Sophie loved the house at first sight. The bricks were painted the brightest white in London, and shone even in the dark. The basement was used to store the overflow of books and paintings and several brands of spiders, and the roof belonged to the birds. Charles lived in the space in between.

At home, after a hot bath in front of the stove, Sophie looked very white and fragile. Charles had not known that a baby was so terrifyingly tiny a thing. She felt too small in his arms. He was almost relieved when there was a knock at the door; he laid Sophie down carefully on a chair, with a Shakespearean play as a booster seat, and went down the stairs two at a time.

When he returned, he was accompanied by a large gray-haired woman; Hamlet was slightly damp, and Sophie was looking embarrassed. Charles scooped her up and set her down—hesitating first over an umbrella stand in a corner, and then over the top of the stove—inside the sink. He smiled, and his eyebrows and eyes smiled too. “Please don’t worry,” he said. “We all have accidents, Sophie.” Then he bowed at the woman. “Let me introduce you. Sophie, this is Miss Eliot, from the National Childcare Agency. Miss Eliot, this is Sophie, from the ocean.”

The woman sighed—an official sort of sigh, it would have sounded, from Sophie’s place in the sink—and frowned, and pulled clean clothes from a parcel. “Give her to me.”

Charles took the clothes from her. “I took this child from the sea, ma’am.” Sophie watched, with large eyes. “She has nobody to keep her safe. Whether I like it or not, she is my responsibility.”

“Not forever.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The child is your ward. She is not your daughter.” This was the sort of woman who spoke in italics. You would be willing to lay bets that her hobby was organizing people. “This is a temporary arrangement.”

“I beg to differ,” said Charles. “But we can fight about that later. The child is cold.” He handed the undershirt to Sophie, who sucked on it. He took it back and put it on her. Then he hefted her in his arms, as though about to guess her weight at a fair, and looked at her closely. “You see? She seems a very intelligent baby.” Sophie’s fingers, he saw, were long and thin, and clever. “And she has hair the color of lightning. How could you possibly resist her?”

“I’ll have to come round, to check on her, and I really don’t have the time to spare. A man can’t do this kind of thing alone.”

“Certainly, please do come,” said Charles—and he added, as if he couldn’t stop himself, “if you feel that you absolutely can’t stay away. I will endeavor to be grateful. But this child is my responsibility. Do you understand?”

“But it’s a child! You’re a man!”

“Your powers of observation are formidable,” said Charles. “You are a credit to your optician.”

“But what are you going to do with her?”

Charles looked bewildered. “I am going to love her. That should be enough, if the poetry I’ve read is anything to go by.” Charles handed Sophie a red apple, then took it back and rubbed it on his sleeve until he could see his face in it. He said, “I am sure the secrets of child care, dark and mysterious though they no doubt are, are not impenetrable.”

Charles set the baby on his knee, handed her the apple, and began to read out loud to her from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It was not, perhaps, the perfect way to begin a new life, but it showed potential.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2013

    This is a magical, wildly imaginative story and I was hooked the

    This is a magical, wildly imaginative story and I was hooked the minute I started reading it. Wonderful characters, intriguing storyline and richly evocative prose. Although marketed for young readers, this is the kind of story that will certainly be enjoyed by young and old alike and I think it's destined to become a classic.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2014

    AMAZING!!!

    Wow. This book was amazing. My sister picked it up while we were vacationing in London. I was almost in tears by the end of the book. It is an amazing book abouy a mother-hunting girl. It is full of adventure. I HIGHLY recommend this book!! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2014

    Im so bad at typing

    I mean i got it on mothers day. I thought i wouldnt like it but i gave it a try. I LOVE IT!!
    Never ignore a possibility

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2014

    Wonderful!

    This book SO good! I would recemend it to anyone who likes music,and family. This book has made me want to play the Cello. Now i do! The Cello is a marvilous instument that has a bueatiful sound!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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