Top positive review
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For more than the kids: READ this enchanting little book, a complete joy on every page
on December 6, 2013
I have come to the conclusion that with few exceptions the best authors are now writing for "children." No idea why or how it happened but aside from my beloved Mystery genre I am overwhelmed with what is being written for the "youth market." I wonder if they deserve such riches as this extraordinarily fine effort by Rundell?
Not for the world would I describe any of the narrative plot much less the details of the characters, THAT is for you to savor, and do yourself that small delight, savor every page. The author has such a unique turn of phrase, with unexpected associations that are meant to be both charming and disarming, that you find yourself being lured into a dream state so beautiful that to over-think it would be to spoil it.
So I will not. The manner of writing, its seductive and often wry way with words reminded me at times of a singular novel, Le Grand Meaulnes by Henry Alain-Fournier who disappeared (literally) in the carnage of Verdun in WW1 has the same delicacy and wistfulness (and which manages to translate even into English! BUT if possible, read it in French, or a variety of translations for cross-reference). Rundell has the same poetic nobility, yet as her audience is the "8 to 12" bracket there is also a sweetness and lightheartedness that Fournier I suspect never experienced in his own life and so only shows up in his female muse in that novel.
We are so much the more fortunate, Charles and Sophie are as genuinely endearing as Scout and her father Atticus, possibly the only other father-daughter duo that can match Rundell's pair.
Should you need further evidence to persuade you I offer Rundell herself:
"... (the baby) was wrapped for warmth in the musical score of a Beethoven symphony ... he noticed that it was a girl, with hair the color of lightning, and the smile of a shy person..." (p.2)
" ... he spoke English to people and French to cats and Latin to the birds..." (p.4)
"... I like my icing to be extravagant" (says the toddler Sophie, p. 9)
"... the more words in a house the better, Miss Eliot" (Charles to the busybody government child welfare agent, pg. 19)
" ... the cello sing, Charles! ... It feels like home. Do you see what I mean? Like fresh air!" (Sophie discovering the cello, p. 25)
" ... only weak thinkers do not love the sky" (Charles to his rooftop enthusiast, Sophie, p. 26)
and on and on it goes, and just when you think Rundell can't possibly make it any more achingly beautiful or touching or winsome she does:
"... it was bread rolls, four of them, soft in the middle and dusted with flour at the top. They were still warm from the oven, and they smelled of blue skies ... I always used to think," said Sophie, "that if love had a smell it would smell like hot bread ..." (Sophie in Paris... p. 185)
Some things are better left unexplained. And so, just how Rundell came up with baby Sophie and her quirky Charles and the quest for her missing mother, well, that is for another reviewer, I will just say grab this awesome book and curl up in a warm blanket on a dreary rainy day and let yourself run loose on the rooftops of Paris with a very special friend in Sophie.
In time you might even let your kids or students read it. Share the magic.