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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
History, Science & Current Affairs
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
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?
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."
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 handsat arm's length, as he would a leaky flowerpotthat 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.
Excerpted from Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. Copyright © 2013 by Katherine Rundell. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell, set in the 19th century, begins after the sinking of a transatlantic ocean liner. A baby girl is found floating alone in a cello case. A man pulls her from the water. He is Charles Maxim, an eccentric scholar, who adopts the girl and names her Sophie. Precocious Sophie grows up in London as Charles' ward. She enters her adolescence polite, good hearted, bookish and as eccentric as Charles. She spends her time reading books, climbing trees, and wearing outlandish clothing. Sophie and Charles seem perfectly united, but they diverge on one big issue - Sophie's mother. Charles believes that she was a passenger on the ship who died during its sinking. Sophie, however, is determined that, not only did her mother not die, but she was a cellist in the ship's orchestra. Sophie pines for her mother, and determines to find her one day, even in the face of Charles' (and the world's) insistence that she is not alive and, thus, cannot be found.
The British National Childcare Agency takes an interest in Charles and Sophie's eccentric ways from the beginning. Fearing that Charles will not teach Sophie to grow up to be a lady, they inform the duo when Sophie turns twelve that she will be removed from Charles' care and placed in an orphanage. This prompts the pair to flee to Paris. They plan to find the cello maker whose address they have recently found inside Sophie's cello case.
In Paris, Sophie, ever drawn to heights, pops through a skylight and meets Matteo, a rooftop dwelling orphan who helps her look for the source of mysterious cello music that floats over the city. But how long can they search before the authorities catch them?
Rooftoppers reads very much like two separate stories. The London section, while vital to the rest of the book, feels just a bit contrived. The plot point about the National Childcare Agency hot on Charles and Sophie's heels feels like an excuse to go to Paris, reducing Sophie's early childhood to a way station between being rescued and going to Paris. Contrived though it may be, it is still whimsical Charles' enthusiastic encouragement of Sophie's tree-climbing habit is one example of the book's fanciful style, as is his aphorism to "never ignore a possible".
In contrast, the Parisian section is magical in the way that the best fairy tales are - combining elements of the fantastic and the grittily realistic into an irresistible alchemical brew. Katherine Rundell has created a fascinating world on the rooftops of Paris. The life of the eponymous "rooptoppers" is grimy; it involves hunger, injury and internecine warfare. Matteo's visceral discussion of the comparative worth of goose versus pigeon versus squirrel fat being combined with bandages for winter foot coverings springs to mind as a perfect example, as is the "war" between street urchins. Nevertheless, the Paris of Rundell's imagination is a magical place, full of amazement and mysteries, largely due to the clever and luminous prose brought to the book by the author.
Overall, the book is playfully optimistic and the characters vividly drawn. A charming and engaging read, Rooftoppers would be ideal for ages 9 and up, as well as fairy tale fans of all ages.
Reviewed by Heather A Phillips
Cello music plays a pivotal role in Rooftoppers. The cello is a string instrument played with a bow. It has four strings tuned to perfect fifths. It is an octave lower than a viola, and an octave and a fifth lower than a violin. The name "cello" is an abbreviation of the Italian violoncello, which means "little violone".
Andrea Amati, of Cremona, Italy, is one of three people credited with the invention of the cello, and he, without question, added a 4th string to the instrument that existed at the time. His grandson, Niccolò, also a luthier (a stringed instrument maker), taught the world famous violinmaker Antonio Stradivari, who also built cellos. These original cellos were slightly larger than the modern cello. Though he had made cellos to the earlier pattern, Stradivari set the modern design in the late 1600s or early 1700s by taking the pioneering step of reducing the size. This made the cello easier to play. The change caught on quickly, and by the mid 1700s luthiers were generally using this smaller pattern. Another change to the cello came in the seventeenth century, when string makers from Bologna, Italy started wrapping wire around their gut strings, giving the string a deeper sound and greater resonance. Previously, strings had been made only of gut, which produced a softer sound when played.
Traditionally, a cello has a spruce top, with maple used for the back, sides, and neck. Other woods, such as poplar, are sometimes used for the back and sides. The top and back are traditionally hand-carved. The top and back also have a decorative border inlay known as purfling. While purfling is attractive, it is also functional. If the instrument is dropped or struck, a crack may form at the rim of the instrument, but will spread no further. Without purfling, cracks can spread up or down the top or back. Playing, traveling and the weather all affect the cello and can increase a crack if purfling is not in place.
Few important cello concertos were written before the 19th century with the notable exceptions of those by Vivaldi, Bach, and Haydn. Its full recognition as a solo instrument came during the Romantic era with the concertos of Schumann, Saint-Saëns and Dvořák. Mstislav Rostropovich, a Soviet cellist and conductor once said that "when the cello enters in the Dvořák Concerto, it is like a great orator." Twentieth-century composers have made the cello a standard concerto instrument.
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