Review by

Rooftoppers

A children’s novel of breathtaking adventure and huge heart

Winner of the Blue Peter Book Awards 2014, this is a fantastic adventure story with a speedy plot, keeping children hooked till the very last page. It’s full of life-affirming messages: ‘Never ignore a possible’ is young Sophie’s war cry as she battles to find her real mother – we have to fight for our dreams, she shows us.

Sophie values bravery, persistence, love and honesty; she has little time for her appearance. This is a real trend amongst her literary contemporaries – I’m loving the scruffy, quirky, intelligent girls dominating children’s books right now, and girls are too. And then, of course, without the loyalty and teamwork of Sophie’s friends, the rooftoppers, she’d never get as far as she does…

Icouldn’t wait to read Rooftoppers; over 200 children from around the UK vote for the winner of the Blue Peter ‘Best Story’ Award (after reading the shortlist), so it always goes to a romping read. It was also shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, which meant that Julia Eccleshare (children’s fiction guru) and other top authors on the panel rated it too.

And what an opening sentence:

On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel

Baby Sophie is ‘found wrapped for warmth in the musical score of a Beethoven symphony’ after a tragic shipwreck. She is promptly adopted by Charles Maxim, ‘a fellow passenger, and a scholar,’ who lifts her into the lifeboat and takes her home; there are no clues to who her actual parents are.

We fall in love with Charles, who serves all of Sophie’s meals to her on the books that overwhelm his haphazard house, and who fills her days with life and love.Less enamored of Charles is Miss Eliot, of the National Childcare Agency. She is horrified by his unorthodox parenting style and eventually arranges for Sophie to be taken away from him.

Sophie is utterly convinced that her real mother is still alive somewhere, and after discovering a hidden clue to her possible whereabouts, Charles and Sophie flee to Paris to find her.

It’s in Paris that things get really exciting: enter the rooftoppers. Sophie loves climbing things and often used to play her cello on their rooftop in London. Now she climbs out of her Parisian attic bedroom and encounters Matteo, an orphan who lives on the roofs of Paris, never descending to road level for fear of being snatched back to his orphanage.  Matteo grows to trust Sophie and together they roam the rooftops.

When Matteo was standing still, he was quite an unusual-looking person. When he moved, he was astonishing. He seemed made of India rubber. He ran low, and used his hands as though they were extra feet.

We willingly suspend our disbelief as Matteo and Sophie set off on epic journeys across the roofs of Paris, leaping impossible distances and covering vast ground. Children will love the detailed description of Matteo’s rooftop home, and his ingenious inventions to make this harsh life possible.

8 to 11 year olds will love this book, girls and boys alike. There’s some sophisticated, challenging vocabulary but it shouldn’t hold children back. You might even decide to read Rooftoppers aloud together – because you’ll hugely enjoy it too.

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Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell published by Faber and Faber Limited, 278 pages

8-11 yrs

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