Roof Toppers is another one of those novels which has been on my to read list forever, but which got bumped to the top of the pile after I was treated to a chapter by one of my year five readers last week. It was a real pleasure to have it read to me and I made a concerted effort to dig it out, dust it off and read it this weekend.
The book is a delightfully old fashioned adventure story, which reminded me of my own childhood as I devoured books like Mary Poppins and Enid Blyton’s mystery stories. It has that kind of quaint charm to it. It is set in what I would imagine is the Edwardian/late Victorian era, although it is never made explicit by the author.
Sophie is found at sea, floating in a cello case as a baby, by a rescue party after a ship has been sunk. One of the rescuers, Charles, who was also on the ship, instantly falls in love with Sophie, and makes her his ward.
Charles is a wonderfully eccentric man who knows nothing at all about children and child care except that he loves Sophie, and will do anything to protect her and make her happy.
Sophie and Charles live a strange and yet perfectly wonderful life together, and Sophie flourishes under Charles’ care. The only person who disagrees is a woman from a child protection agency sent to monitor Sophie’s upbringing. Until Sophie becomes a young woman, Miss Eliot merely confines herself to sarcastic opinions and moral judgements, which Charles and Sophie are able to ignore. It is only when Miss Eliot decides that Sophie needs training up as a young lady, that things go wrong.
Miss Eliot recommends that Sophie be taken away, and government inspectors agree. Sophie and Charles face being split up, until Sophie finds a clue that might lead her to the mother she thinks is still alive, and who she was parted from in the ship wreck. Charles is not sure that Sophie is right, but he has taught her to be resourceful and to never give up. He accompanies her to Paris and they set off on the adventure of a life time.
The story is quirky, romantic, funny and full of adventure. By romantic I don’t mean in terms of boy/girl romance, by the way. I mean romance in a broader sense of friendship, the love of the city Sophie finds herself in, her love of music. I could go on. There are so many romantic elements here.
There are also twists and turns that will delight the reader and that make the story beautifully unpredictable. I loved this book. Although I have described it as old fashioned, it is written with style and élan, and takes all the best elements of the old fashioned stories I love, but updates them to a modern sensibility. The chapters are short and well paced, the language is accessible, there is no sense of the book not being achievable by modern child readers, unlike some of the classics.
It is a book that I think will appeal more to girls than boys, although it has elements in it that I think boy readers will love if they give it a chance. I think it is one of those books that would be a really easy sell if you were able to pick out one of the more exciting chapters and read it aloud in class or at bed time. Once you’ve hooked a child’s imagination you’ve got them, and this book is full of rich passages that would be perfect for this.
It would make a wonderful bed time story for children aged six and up and a great read alone story for children aged 8-12.