Customer Reviews: Rooftoppers
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VINE VOICEon 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.
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VINE VOICEon September 30, 2013
This story takes place near the end of the 19th Century shifting from England to Paris.

The story begins with the sinking of an English ship named the Queen Mary and the rescue by one survivor of another. A 36yo English bachelor named Charles Maxim rescues a cute little baby girl with platinum blond hair he describes as the color of lightning. He becomes her legal guardian and names her Sophie Maxim. Although they are not rich in finances, they are rich in the love they have for each other as they are all that each of them has. Sophie is a precocious child and is home schooled by Charles when he thinks to give her any lessons. She loves him and wants to do everything he does, so to keep her from drinking any of his whiskey, he pours it into a plain bottle and labels it Cat's Urine. The inquisitive. little Sophie smells it and then smells the backside of their cat and proclaims they didn't smell much alike to her. ;-) Things work out pretty well for the duo until Sophie turns 12, at which time, the Welfare agency says she will be sent away to an orphanage until she is 18, since Charles is not a blood relative and they didn't think it was proper for a single man to be in charge of a young woman of impressionable age. Both Sophie and Charles agree this is about the dumbest thing they have ever heard, so high-tail it to Paris to try and find her mother if she is even still alive. They pick Paris since that is where the Queen Mary sailed from before it sunk.

The first part of the book is devoted to Sophie and Charles loving relationship as she grows up from a 1yo to the age of 12. The second part then takes place in Paris as she and Charles try to find her mother. In their quest, while staying at a flea-bag hotel to try and avoid detection from the authorities who are looking for both of them, Sophie meets a young teen orphan named Matteo, who escaped an orphanage some years ago and lives on the rooftops of Parisian buildings along with some other orphaned teens, which is where the books title comes from.

Sophie, Matteo, and the other teen ROOFTOPPERS have numerous scary episodes [including a big fight with a rival teen gang that lives in the train station] while clambering along the roofs, using them as a vantage point to search for Sophie's mother. They think her mother's name is Vivienne Vert which translates to Green in English, but no FEMALE passengers or crew members survived from the sinking Queen Mary, but Sophie won't give up. Meanwhile the authorities are closing in trying to put Sophie in an orphanage and Charles in jail for evading the law.

There is enough angst to keep the average teen turning pages to find out what happens to Sophie and Matteo. Part of the plot involves a possible corrupt scheme by the Parisian Police Commissioner to conspire to sink ships and collect the insurance money on them. But a major plot point is the playing of Flaume's Requiem at double time speed on the cello. I don't wish to go further to spoil the final denouement for the reader. Let me say that the story is highly improbable, but has just enough believability in it to keep the average reader turning the pages till the end. A nice book for tweens and teens.
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on October 19, 2013
I saw Rooftoppers at the store last week and was instantly intrigued by the premise. With my wife being a music teacher, a silhouette of a cellist on a rooftop didn't hurt anything, either. Regardless, I had to think about it, but ended up buying it a few days later, thinking it would be a great book for my nine-year-old daughter.
I'm sure it will be -- I loved it.
The protagonist, Sophie, was rescued from a sinking ship by an English scholar named Charles Maxim. He loved and cared for her, but not the way a woman "should" be raised in the 1890's in London. The state is threatening to take Sophie away, but suddenly Sophie and Charles are making their way to Paris for a search for Sophie's presumed-dead mother. That's when the story really gets interesting as Sophie meets Matteo, an orphan who lives on the rooftops of Parisian homes and businesses. Sophie, now 13, joins in and discovers new wonders in the European city.
The story is told in a wonderful style, much like the Lemony Snicket books, just without the sense of doom and gloom that hung over each word. Instead, there was a sense of joy and wonder, even when Sophie was nearly taken away from the only parent she'd ever known.
I thought the author did a wonderful job of not chasing after storylines that would have been very logical, but would have taken away from the innocence and childlike text. Insurance fraud, murder and police cover-ups are all mentioned, but only briefly as the story quickly moves on like a child would expect.
Terrific book and I'll be passing it on to my daughter next!
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on November 19, 2013
Beautiful writing with a heartwarming story that reminds me a bit of the movie August Rush, with a child following a trail of music in a search for parents. The opening with a baby being found in a music case is fun and grabs the reader right away. This book sings of awards!
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on February 10, 2016
Well, I expected so much more from this. Rundell's writing is finely crafted, but the plot was so drawn out with so many lengthy descriptions of plodding, unending events and places, it really took from the story. I love the idea of a girl in search of her lost mother, but the characters were so flat, and stereotypical, one dimensional, I just could not relate, or even care, even for the main character. Far fewer attempts at cleverness would have done this story a lot of good. Some of the over the top gross descriptions of food and bodily filth and bird droppings covering a window just felt oddly forced, and like the author was attempting to be unique and clever and paint some authenticity into her story, but it was so unnatural and unfortunately had the effect of rendering the main character and many of the others as totally unrealistic and unsympathetic. Readers relate to normalcy in characters far beyond abnormality. Uniqueness has to be interwoven in doses and with skill so that it does't flatten the authenticity of character, setting, and plot. Three stars because the mechanics of the writing was polished. The story itself would be 2 stars.
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on July 12, 2013
Rooftoppers was not only an engaging read it also let the reader imagine beautiful sights and personally made me feel happy just reading it. The book captures the playfulness and optimism of young children and gives you the feeling as if you too were tagging along. Katherine Rundell is a brilliant author who has written a heart warming and adventurous novel that I personally could read again and again.
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on December 4, 2013
This book started off with a definite quirky vibe (which I like, but some people strongly dislike), but then it changed into an interesting, historically set adventure story with just a tiny bit of quirk -- mostly due to the unconventional characters and setting -- that shouldn't be a hindrance to anyone.

Rooftoppers was so well written that I found myself marking passages throughout, so I'm going to try to center my review around some of author Katherine Rundell's words to give a proper feel for the novel.

The first sentence of the novel shows the quirkiness, "On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel."

Charles Maxim who had "never really known a child before" (page 3) finds her and names her Sophie and takes her as his own. He is a kind and loving father, understanding and even assisting Sophie when she decides she's ready to find her mother, since she has never come for her as Sophie assumed she would. A theme running throughout the novel is Charles' encouragement to Sophie to "never ignore a possible." A quote I marked which showed his sweet character and support is this:

I know it's hard, Sophie. Life is so hard. My God, life is the hardest thing in the world! That is a thing people should mention more often" (page 30).

So, they go to Paris to try to find her mother. How does Sophie find Paris? "Sophie looked, and gasped. Below her feet, Paris stretched out toward the river. Paris was darker than London: It was a city lit in blinks and flickers. And it was Faberge-egg beautiful, she thought. It was magic carpet stuff" (page 157).

While she's there on her quest, Sophie befriends the "rooftoppers," homeless Parisian children, who have to stay out of sight or risk being locked up in an orphanage, which leads to a fun setting and a series of adventures. This is an original, imaginative and touching story that I enjoyed a lot.


There are some interesting gender issues explored here that you might want to discuss with your child. It's fitting for the time (in the 1930's, I think), but it could still be troublesome if the child didn't put it into context. For example, especially as Sophie gets older, the social worker is very concerned with Charles raising a girl all alone, because it isn't proper for a man. She also has all sorts of thoughts about what Sophie should and shouldn't do -- like wear pants and be a musician -- because it's not something girls do.

There are also a few mild swear words scattered throughout, which I'd prefer to avoid in children's fiction, but it seems to be a trend that is increasing.
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on February 20, 2014
Nothing else to add. The more I read the less engaging the story turned out to be. The last oages, where the main character finds what she has been looking for throughout the book is a real let-down. I wanted to love the book but as soon as the two main characters moved to Paris, everything went downhill, even the magic of Rundell's prose and her use of language... Wanted to use the book with my kids in class but now I know I won't.
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on March 3, 2016
This is a wonderful story, great for upper elementary or middle schoolers. The reading level, or Lexile, is late second grade, but the story is interesting to any age. It's one of those bridge books that may help a student who is having a hard time transitioning into chapter books. And yes, the sale went smoothly!
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on February 14, 2016
This was a wonderful story about a child found floating in a cello case after The Queen Mary has sunk. Charles an older man who also survived the wreckage rescues the child and decides to keep her. He names her Sophie, when the child welfare asks Charles how he can possible care for this child he tells the simply that all Sophie needs is to be loved.

Once the officials decide Sophie would be better placed elsewhere he decides to take her to Paris to search for her Mother which Sophie believes is still alive.

The story is full of love and some wonderful characters. The true adventure begins once they leave for Paris. The big message from the book is "Never miss a Possible".

I read the book to support a team of four 4th graders competing in OBOB (Oregon Battle of The Books) many of the students who are participating selected this book as their favorite this year. I completely agree it was a fun book that left me feeling good.
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