Parisian Rooftops: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (20130)

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (2013)

Suggested age range: 9 and up (Faber & Faber, 278 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

rooftoppers-cover

“Perhaps, she thought, that’s what love does. It’s not there to make you feel special. It’s to make you brave. It was like a ration pack in the desert, she thought, like a box of matches in a dark wood. Love and courage, thought Sophie—two words for the same thing.”

The Book: Found as a baby in a cello case floating in the English channel, Sophie grows up with the eccentric and wonderful Charles, a loving guardian who only wants the best for this extraordinary girl. When authorities begin to question whether Charles is the best parent for a girl like Sophie, though, the two leave for Paris, in search of Sophie’s mother. What follows is an adventurous romp over the rooftops of Paris, as Sophie meets Matteo, an orphan who is an expert in living on the rooftops. Matteo will prove invaluable in helping Sophie navigate the city in the midst of her quest to find the mother she has longed for her entire life. Danger and mystery hover over the narrative, and once you begin this delightful award-winning British novel, you won’t want to stop the race with Sophie for her cello-playing mother.

Spirituality in Rooftoppers: The story celebrates several spiritual aspects—the first obvious one is the way that Charles intentionally loves and cares for Sophie—an orphaned girl with no one else in the world. When Charles is asked what he can possibly offer a child, he replies, “ ‘I am going to love her. That should be enough, if the poetry I’ve read is anything to go by’” (p. 6). Then there’s the aspect of hope—a hope that defies what the world is telling her. Sophie is continually told that there is little chance of being reunited with her mother. There were not survivors in the shipwreck; she can’t possibly be alive. However, Charles has taught her to take note of a “possible” and if it’s possible, it’s worth pursuing. This is a spiritual idea in the narrative that offers a lot of room for discussion and reflection. The way Rundell brings it up throughout the story, in my opinion, strengthened the book.

Who Should Read This Book: If you enjoy mystery or adventure or classic children’s literature, there’s something here for you. The book contains all the characteristics of a good story—fantastic characterization, a fabulous setting, a mystery, and thought-provoking themes. The spiritual concept of hope—of not ignoring “a possible” is especially strong in the story, and that alone gives it a high rating in my book. It also received the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in England. Rundell has another book published called Girl Savage (British title: Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms).

The Final Word: I had been waiting to read Rooftoppers because when I knew I was traveling to London, I decided I would pick up a copy there. After all, it was a British book, and I usually gravitate towards British covers more than the American covers of children’s books. When I bought the book, I immediately sat down with a cup of tea and a brownie and started reading. I was hooked from the start. I loved Sophie and her “father,” Charles, and I was on the edge of my seat as they fled London and traveled to Paris in search of Sophie’s mother. This is a delightful and heartwarming story for all ages—strongly recommended.

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Wardrobes, Gardens, and Hot Air Balloons: The Spirituality of Children’s Literature (Part I)

The_Secret_Garden_book_cover_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17396

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

 (The Secret Garden [1911] by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

A door into the garden. A step into a wardrobe. A flight in a hot air balloon. Whether it is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911), C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), or Pauline Fiske’s Midnight Blue (1990), literature for children, in both realistic and fantastic genres, illuminates a spirituality that cannot be ignored. At least I couldn’t ignore it. And many young readers that I talked to couldn’t either.

What is spirituality in children’s literature anyway? I’m glad you asked. In my exploring of the topic, I first had to consider a definition of spirituality itself.

What in the world is spirituality?

Some researchers of children’s spirituality including Robert Coles, David Hay, Rebecca Nye, Brendan Hyde, and Tobin Hart, among others, perceive spirituality as a universal human attribute, a fundamental aspect of existence (1990; 1998; 2008a; 2003). In other words, spirituality is an “innate human trait,” playing an important and beneficial role in people’s lives and it is not limited to one religious tradition (Hyde, 2008a, p.23, 29). I like how Sandra Schneiders expresses it: “spirituality is a project of life-integration which means that it is holistic, involving body and spirit, emotions and thought, activity and passivity, social and individual aspects of life” (2003, p. 167). In the context of studying it within children’s literature, I think of spirituality as awareness, a lived reality, which can relate to an individual’s connection with other people, the self, the natural world, or a divine source such as God. Helminiak states that spirituality “refers to everything one does that expresses or enhances one’s awareness of and commitment to the transcendent dimension of life” (p. 34).

What does this mean in children’s books? It means there is a spiritual geography in many stories for children, and that talking to readers about those spaces can be incredibly rewarding and rich (for both child and adult!). Put simply, spirituality in a text might be a character’s awareness of something beyond the physical dimension of existence; it could be a sensitivity that can tune into profound hope, awe, wonder, selflessness, and love. A book’s spirituality could also be revealed through a relationship between two characters–but it’s not just any relationship. And yes, spirituality can be expressed within a particular religious tradition, but not all people who consider themselves spiritual would call themselves religious.

Think of the way that Mary Lennox (see The Secret Garden) shakes off her selfishness and begins to care for and nurture others. There is certainly a “transcendent dimension” to Burnett’s story, in the way that Mary and Colin experience renewed hope through their engagement with the beauty of the natural world. Lewis’s fantasy has the religious undertones, yes, but along with those, there is a spiritual aspect in Lucy’s openness to wonder and awe, and her faith and ability to hope in the midst of difficulty and sadness (See The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe). Fiske’s fantasy novel illuminates the battle between good and evil, a showdown that doesn’t have to be between hobbits and the evil forces of Mordor in order to be spiritual. Sometimes the struggle can be a lot closer to home (See Midnight Blue). These few examples are meant to highlight that the spirituality of children’s literature is more than just epic battles between good and evil, supernatural happenings, or religious stories. Although, spirituality in books can certainly include these.

Another opinion of mine: spirituality in children’s literature is important, for both young and old readers. The reason for this is because SPIRITUALITY is important.

Here’s one way to think about it: In his book, Hay discusses a study with people who said they had some kind of spiritual experience. The results of questioning hundreds of these people indicate “that the initial effect of their experience is to make them look beyond themselves. They have an increased desire to care for those closest to them, to take issues of social justice more seriously and to be concerned about the total environment” (Hay, p. 29). If spirituality in a person’s life plays a role in such activities, maybe reflecting on and talking about the spirituality of books with others might be a good activity too. One more way to think about it–a book might depict a character experiencing something “spiritual” or it could be that a book just happens to nurture a reader’s spirituality, though maybe it seems lacking in any spiritual aspects at first glance. So, we could talk about the spirituality of a story, or what a story does to the spirituality of the reader. Or both.

Doing this gives us a chance to reflect on our spirituality and think more deeply about this important aspect of life. For me, this happened with contemporary works of children’s literature such as Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2006), Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle (2010), and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (2012).

I’m an adult, you’re thinking.

Is this kind of thing supposed to happen when you read children’s or young adult literature? If you are open to it (and sometimes even if you aren’t), then yes, literature for younger readers might just tap your own spirituality. It might remind you that there was a sad moment in your life when you hid your heart away, just enough, so you could get through to the next day (see The Heart and the Bottle). You might find yourself identifying with the way Edward Tulane refuses to hope anymore after so many times of being separated from the people he wants to be near (See The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane). Even though Applegate’s novel is about a gorilla and an elephant, you might be surprised when you find yourself wondering if your own creativity could bring freedom to someone. Can art free others? (See The One and Only Ivan). These examples illustrate potential ways that reading children’s literature might nurture our spirituality. And they are just three examples: a picturebook, and two illustrated novels.

The journey of exploring the spirituality of children’s literature is neverending. There are countless texts that highlight spiritual issues and concepts. From my own experience, there is an amazing amount of books that might nurture the spirituality of young readers. But that discussion is for another time.

For now, I hope you will pick up a children’s book, and with an open mind, step through the wardrobe, open the door into the garden, and hop on the flying balloon for a journey into the spiritual dimensions of children’s literature.

Midnight Bluewardrobe

References
Coles, R. (1990). The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hart, T. (2003). The Secret Spiritual World of Children. Maui, Hawai: Inner Ocean.
Hay, D. with Nye, R. (2006). The Spirit of the Child. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. (Original work published 1998).
Helminiak, D.A. (1996). The Human Core of Spirituality. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hyde, B. (2008a). Children and Spirituality. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Schneiders, S.M. (2003). Religion vs. Spirituality: A Contemporary Conundrum. Spiritus, 3, 163-185.
Kid Lit Blog Hop

Picturebook Review: Anthony Browne’s Me and You

Me and You (2010) by Anthony Browne,

Suggested age range: 7 and up

(Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 32 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Library

meyou

“The girl leaped out of bed and ran downstairs and out the door.

I wonder what happened to her.”

The Book: Anthony Browne has done it again! He has written and illustrated a thought-provoking picturebook that leaves multiple gaps for readers, and manages to open up profound and spiritual discussion about how people treat and perceive one another. He accomplishes this all with the well-known fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But that’s not the title of this story; this one is called Me and You. The book follows the story of the original fairy tale, but includes the perspective of both the girl, who becomes lost after chasing a balloon and finds her way into the bear’s unlocked house, as well as the bears. One page includes the text and more muted illustrations of the girl’s view and the opposite page features the colorful and pastel world of the bears.

Spirituality in Me & You: One attribute of spirituality in texts for young readers is a capacity to increase social sensitivity in readers. For example, does a reader walk away from a book with a desire to understand and reach out to others more? The concluding text in Me and You portrays the child of the bear household, gazing out the window at the girl, wondering where she is going. We, the readers, get to see the barbed wire and the graffiti on the wall the girl walks by. We know that she was separated from her mother early in the story, and that she may go hungry some days. Having this perspective of her character allow the reader to more fully understand the why behind her going into the bears’ sunny yellow house. Encouraging such open-mindedness is a characteristic of Browne’s books.

Exploring this Book with Readers: This picturebook might make its way into the classroom and serve as a whole class read aloud, a book for an individual reader, or even a book for several readers. Two readers might switch off “telling” the story aloud—one reader can take the girl’s story and one reader can tell the bears’ story. Students could add several pages to the end of the story, and communicate through the written word as well as the visual what happens after that last page. Finally, this book would pair nicely with Browne’s Voices in the Park as many themes are similar. This book should be shared with children who might be familiar with the Goldilocks tale, and basically, every reader should be exposed to Browne’s picturebooks!

The Final Word: I have never been disappointed with any of British illustrator, Anthony Browne’s books, and this one was no exception. Browne has taken what can be a sensitive issue, and has framed it within the pages of a story about a lonely girl who is trespassing on another family’s property. Like his Voices in the Park, this story highlights a child (baby bear) who wonders about another child (the girl), even though the parents might be disapproving. Both books position the child characters as (potentially) the more sensitive ones, who are not as quick to judge others based on their appearance.

Can you think of other re-visioned fairy tale picturebooks (recently published or older) that encourage social sensitivity in readers?

A Hot Air Balloon Ride to a Land Beyond the Sky

Midnight Blue

Midnight Blue

by Pauline Fisk (Bloomsbury, 2005, first published, 1990)

Ages 9 and up

One of the reviews of this fantasy likens it to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I’d have to say I agree, although it’s quite different in many ways. There are parallels, however, in the novel’s engagement with the beauty of the natural world, an emphasis on the individual’s connectedness to others, and the existence of a parallel world or universe.

Set in England, Fisk sketches a fascinating landscape featuring a parallel world within which a young girl, Bonnie, works through issues of anger and bitterness, develops a place within a family, and then becomes, in many ways a new individual.

I was drawn to the opening of the novel: “It began as it always did with sweet, solitary notes of music that called to her from somewhere beyond the sky…” (8). This otherworldly music characterizes Bonnie’s travel by way of hot air balloon to a world beyond the sky. Fisk includes several fantasy concepts that I haven’t encountered in other stories, and in many ways, her text takes surprising turns. The reader encounters a bitter grandmother, dangerous enchanted mirrors, a protective necklace, and a shadowboy.

Through her presence in this parallel world that includes almost exact copies of herself, her mother, a male friend, and her grandmother, she is able to work through personal issues that will enable her to function as a healthy individual once she returns home. However, the reader wonders: Will Bonnie decide to return to her original world? The book is realistic in the sense that Fisk makes it clear no matter how many worlds removed we become from our original world, our personal issues follow us. At some point, we have to deal with fear or anger or rejection, and work through such issues in order to become healthy—emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

From the start of the book, Bonnie’s engagement with her imagination is clear. Bonnie has been raised by an awful grandmother due to her mother’s inability to take care of her, and perhaps it is this negative upbringing that especially positions her to jump at the chance to journey to another world. “All her life long, and though she never knew quite why, she’d known there a was a land beyond the sky. She’d wondered how to get to it and what it was like” (17).

I didn’t like that there are many dimensions of the book left unexplained. However, this is probably just my desire to want to know the significance of everything, and actually, Fisk’s leaving many aspects open-ended probably makes for good discussion of this book with a reading group.

This is an excellent work of fantasy that I highly recommend, and I am surprised this work of Fisk’s is not more well-known.