Orphans are a common trope in children’s literature. I’m sure many people have researched and written on this topic, so I won’t do that here. But I will say that Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Terry Fan (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, out today), delightfully plays with and challenges all the conventions of books about orphans. It is wonderfully mystical, and laugh out loud funny. Charles Maxim finds Sophie floating in a cello case in the English Channel after a shipwreck. According to the pin on her front, reading 1! it is probably Sophie’s first birthday. Charles, a scholar, takes her in and plans to care for her, despite the consternation of one Miss Eliot from the National Childcare Agency:
‘But it’s a child! You’re a man!’
‘Your powers of observation are formidable,’ said Charles. ‘You are a credit to your optician.’
‘But what are you going to do with her?’
Charles looked bewildered. ‘I am going to love her. That should be enough, if the poetry I’ve read is anything to go by.’
So Sophie isn’t alone; Charles does love her, and despite her rather unconventional upbringing and the fact that Charles allows her to wear trousers (!), she is happy. They are happy. Until Sophie turns 12 and the National Childcare Agency decides that Charles is an unfit guardian for a young woman. Sophie, who has hair the color of lightening, and loves to play the cello, has memories of her mother aboard that ship. She also finds an address for a music shop in Paris in the cello case that Charles finds her in. The two of them spirit away to Paris to look for her mother. There Sophie discovers a world of urchins — not street urchins, but rooftop urchins. With a little friendship, music, and just a touch of magic, Sophie might find exactly what she is looking for on the rooftops of Paris.