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


“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.


A Toy’s Adventure & Connecting Countries

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
Jawaharlal Nehru


The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson (2011)

Suggested age range: 8 and up

(Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 208 pages)

Though I read this book late spring of this year, I am just now posting my review of the novel near the end of almost two months of travel abroad.

Think Hitty, Her First Hundred Years plus The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Those are two of my favorite novels so it is no surprise that Kirby Larson’s 2011 The Friendship Doll became a new favorite. This book is amazing!! It is a slim volume of 201 pages, and yet I tried to read it slowly, in hopes that I could draw out the conclusion. I would not have minded had the book continued on for several hundred more pages. It has been awhile since a book has moved me so, and my hope is that should you read the story, it will move you as well.

The story opens with a real historical event—in 1927, 58 amazing dolls were sent to the United States by Japanese schoolchildren in a symbolic act of reaching out in friendship. One of those 58 dolls is Miss Kanagawa, the doll who narrates the story and encounters various girls over the years, whose lives she touches in profound ways. The time period of the novel begins in 1927 and ends in the present day. There are significant spiritual themes that emerge through these exchanges, such as compassion, hope, faith, and forgiveness. Miss Kanagawa is not able to talk to the people she meets, but even without explicit oral discourse, she is still able to communicate with them and touch their hearts. Through Miss Kanagawa’s travels, the reader meets Bunny, Lois, Willie Mae, and Lucy. All the girls face different challenges and issues through which they must work, such as unforgiveness and selfishness. They also develop traits such as bravery and kindness. It is with Miss Kanagawa’s help that they find resolution.

Needless to say, this story assuredly reflects multiple spiritual dimensions, and this reader can attest to the way the book nurtured my own spirituality and even encouraged me to become more aware of those around me who might be suffering, but do not show it. The story reminded me that small gestures of kindness can mean the world to another person, and also that sharp words can cause terrible damage and hurt. The historical dimensions of the book deepened my awareness of how relations between countries can be strengthened in surprising and creative ways. Perhaps this also points to the idea that connections between people can also be fueled in ways we would never have considered—the notion of exchanging dolls as gifts between America and Japan may not be something the average person knows about. Yet, Larson bases her story on a very real event when fifty-eight friendship dolls were given to the United States by Japanese schoolchildren in 1927.

This is the perfect book to blog about while I am nearing the conclusion of a rich and wonderful journey through multiple countries (England, Belgium, France, Israel) this summer.

Are there any excellent children’s or young adult books you have read this summer that relate to travel or the meeting of other cultures?

China Rabbits & Soaring Hope


What a wonderful night this was! He was walking on his own. He had an elegant new suit. And now he had wings. He could fly anywhere, do anything. Why had he never realized it before? His heart soared inside of him.  (p. 163)

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (2006)

Suggested age range: 7 and up

(Candlewick Press, 224 pages)

A toy fantasy novel for children, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2006) by Kate DiCamillo, features a spiritual landscape through which readers can navigate a rich and rewarding journey. The voyage of a selfish china rabbit, Edward, begins when he is separated from his owner, Abilene Tulane, and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Only after he is lost and alone does he learn what it means to love and to be loved and known by those to whom he is connected during his travels. As he bonds with one owner, is then separated, and forced to find another, he discovers how a heart can break and yet heal again. Edward nearly gives up hope that he will be discovered and loved again after he experiences loss three times. In the conclusion of the story, Edward waits in a toyshop for what seems to be many years, hoping for love and meaningful connection once again. In case you have not read the novel, I will refrain from telling all.

The dilemma that Edward faces is a universal one and readers of all ages would benefit from reading DiCamillo’s text in that the narrative highlights the necessity of maintaining hope and keeping one’s heart open to experiences—both good and bad. Though the story has its dark turns, the overall message is that one should never give up hope, and though we can be wounded in relationships, faith in future connections is vital. Readers may recognize the dilemma with which Edward is faced; it is painful to open one’s heart and then face loss, but if true connection is to be discovered, one must take the risk of vulnerability once again. As Hunt states in her discussion of spiritual stories, surely this is a theme to which readers would respond, “ ‘This is true.’ ‘This is real’” (1969, p. 51). Additionally, as Wangerin suggests, this is an “ultimate meaning” about life that readers can connect to, through their reading and discussing of DiCamillo’s text (qtd. In Ratcliff with May, 2004, p. 12).

I (Catherine) conducted a study for my dissertation in which I listened to ten and eleven year old children share their ideas about this story with me. Our discussion revealed that young readers talk about their spiritual experience of this novel. Several of the children tapped into the significance of Edward keeping his heart open to further relationships though he had been wounded and saddened by sudden separation. Though as adults we sometimes assume that children may not grasp deeper meanings or themes in texts, the children I spoke with revealed a very sophisticated and sensitive reading of the text’s spiritual landscape. For example, at one point in the story, near the end, Edward dreams (or has a near-death experience) with all the people he has met throughout the novel. He sees in the sky the “Sarah Ruth Constellation,” a swirl of stars he is told represents one girl who died that he loved, Sarah Ruth. Realizing he has wings attached to his back, Edward struggles to fly up to Sarah Ruth. However, those surrounding him pull him back and he wakes up. Though DiCamillo includes no interpretation of this dream in the book, one of my child participants, “Roland,” said this about the significance of the dream: “I think it means that he shouldn’t give up ever in trying to find—in finding people who love him. I think it means he should just keep going and they’re all trying to say that.” Roland continued to talk about the dream, and made comments reflecting an understanding of potential spiritual themes at work in the book.

DiCamillo’s text highlights the significance of relationships with others, one of the four major connections out of which spiritual awareness can flow. Edward’s dream of all those he has met during his journey highlights the power of relationships with other people. In this dream, Edward is able to walk and almost fly and this points to the transcendent dimension of deep connections with people. When he is sitting on the shelf in the toyshop, he articulates his indifference to anyone coming to buy him, due to the pain he has experienced through his separation from those he has loved. The doll next to him replies,

“But that’s dreadful,” said the old doll. “There’s no point in going on if you feel that way. No point at all. You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next.” “I am done with being loved,” Edward told her. “I’m done with loving. It’s too painful.” “Pish,” said the old doll. “Where is your courage?” (p. 188-189)

The old doll’s words embody spiritual wisdom, as she recognizes it takes bravery to love again after enduring loss, but she is aware that life loses value without fulfilling and close relationships through which one’s heart can love and receive love. If spirituality is understood as an extending of the self, this is definitely a moment in which Edward’s spirituality can grow, as a future of loving connections hinges on his reaching his heart out yet again. As Hunt says, a book with spiritual value can represent “experiences that make us grow…” (1969, p. 51). This moment in the novel represents a potential area of discussion with young readers about Edward’s predicament and his emotional and spiritual state.

This novel of DiCamillo’s is perfect for both children and adults. It is perfect for adults to read and to talk about with others, or not. It is perfect for children to read and talk about with other children or with adults, or not. All around, this is an excellent read with the potential to engage and nurture the spirit of the reader who is so lucky to encounter it.


Hunt, G. (1969). Honey for a child’s heart: the imaginative use of books in family life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Ratcliff, D. & May, S. (2004). Identifying Children’s Spirituality, Walter Wangerin’s Perspectives, and an Overview of the Book. In D. Ratcliff (Ed.), Children’s Spirituality: Perspectives, Research, and Applications (pp. 7-21).  

A Silverback’s Promise: The One and Only Ivan


Newbery Winner, 2012

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2012)

Suggested age range: 8 and up

(Harper Collins, 306 pages)

When the Newbery winner was announced for 2012, and I realized I had not read the awarded book, I quickly remedied the situation and settled down to read Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. The story reminded me a little of The Magician’s Elephant, another fantasy novel you would do well to read, if you have not. Currently, we are reading Applegate’s book aloud in my 8th grade English classroom.

First, however, a few words about Ivan.

“I was born in a place humans call central Africa, in a dense rain forest so beautiful, no crayons could ever do it justice.”

Ivan is a gorilla. He is a friend to an elephant and a stray dog, an observer of humans, and an artist. He lives in a mall.

“I have been in my domain for nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-five days. Alone.”

If you haven’t met Ivan, you can expect your life to be changed when you do. This novel about a gorilla who lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video arcade is truly a winner. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s humorous and moving. It is a work of children’s literature that will engage your heart—it is a story with the potential to nurture the spirit of the reader.

“I know what most humans think. They think gorillas don’t have imaginations. They think we don’t remember our pasts or ponder our futures.”

Ivan is no ordinary gorilla. He watches television, spends time with his dear friends, Stella, an old elephant who also performs at the mall, and Bob, a stray dog. The trio bond as each day illuminates the same routine—show after show, day after day–for the humans who come to view the animals. Stella is an important figure to Ivan as she mentors, encourages, and challenges him.

“Stella says she is sure I will see another real, live gorilla someday, and I believe her because she is even older than I am and has eyes like black stars and knows more than I will ever know.”

Furthermore, Ivan is an artist. He loves to draw, and his drawings catch quite a penny in the mall gift shop. In this first person narrative, Ivan’s thoughts and observations about the world reflect a character we quickly grow to love.

At one point in the story, the animals realize a new arrival is on its way—another friend to join them. When Ruby, a young elephant arrives, Ivan takes it upon himself to be her protector. With Stella’s encouragement, Ivan begins to wonder whether there is another life for Ruby—a life beyond the monotony of performing for humans at the mall in show after show, day after day. Will Ivan’s friendship and his artistic creations be enough to help Ruby?

“ ‘I’ve always been an artist. I love drawing.’ ‘Why do you love it?’ Ruby asks. I pause. I’ve never talked to anyone about this before. ‘When I’m drawing a picture, I feel…quiet inside.’”

How will the different relationships Ivan has cultivated at the mall change as the story unfolds? These are questions for you, dear reader, to ponder as you experience Applegate’s novel. Rather than share my thoughts about the end of the novel, I will refrain, so that you can be surprised.

The One and Only Ivan raises multiple significant themes, including the idea that compassion for others leads to action and intervening on their behalf. The story suggests that expressing our creativity in surprising ways can lead to transformational experiences that bring hope and love to others. The relationships among the characters communicates the idea that our connections with others are vital, life changing and can affect us in ways we do not expect.

You will surely want to meet The One and Only Ivan, winner of this year’s Newbery medal.