‘Rooftoppers’ by Katherine Rundell is my book of the month because it is an enchanting story about an apparently orphaned child who is found as a baby ‘floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel‘. The story unfolds as she tries to find her mother in Paris, with only a shred of information and the help of a very eccentric guardian and a mysterious french child called Matteo, who lives on the rooftops.
I have just finished reading the story and enjoyed every page because I love the way Rundell crafts these characters from another century and captures their love of life! I would probably use the text with upper Key Stage 2 to really extend their understanding of how words are eloquently used to create a world of rooftops and secrets. The book jacket gives us a glimpse into this:
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, she takes matters into her own hands and flees to Paris to look for her mother, starting with the only clue she has – 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?
From the first page you are intrigued by Sophie’s circumstances and eager to find out whether she will ever learn about her past and if she has a cello-playing mother that she vividly remembers:
You can look at a clip of the author introducing the book on http://youtu.be/ou85rDqQ4e0 and that could be a good way to introduce the book to children.
We are introduced to larger than life characters, such as the kind gentleman, Charles Maxim, who ‘adopts’ Sophie:
‘ He is bookish, as one would expect of a scholar:also apparently generous , awkward, industrious. He is unusually tall but doctor’s reports suggest he is otherwise healthy. He is stubbornly certain of his ability to care for a female ward.’
But the thing I love most about the writing is the way she plays with the reader to keep us on our toes. Each sentence is carefully constructed so the reader really has to think about what they are read and often see the subtle humour in the references or nuances from the text. For example, Rundell goes on to tell us about Sophie:
‘Perhaps such thing s are contagious, because Sophie grew up tall and generous and bookish and awkward. By the time she turned seven, she had legs as long and thin as golf umbrellas, and a collection of stubborn certainties.
Sophie is a like-able role-model, who has an adventurous spirit. She meets her match in Meteo, who risks his live every day on the Paris rooftops, just to survive.
Juliet, the Year 5 teacher at St George’s Primary School in Wallasey, who recommended the book to me as she knows how much I love clever texts, is about to start a four week block of work with it. She has sent me the power-point that she will be using as her initial stimulus:
She has also promised to send me some of the children’s work. I can’t wait to see it as her past work on Varmints by Helen Ward was fantastic:
The story could also support the KS 2 geography block of work on investigating a European city, as it is set in the heart of Paris and we watch Sophie move across its rooftops in search of clues about her missing mother.
I will be using the text to really stretch my upper KS 2 pupils as it is an eloquent piece of story telling that really makes you think!