Toby's Reviews > The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
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's review
Mar 08, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: children-s-award-winner, narrative-nonfiction, 2nd-time-around
Read in August, 2011

I watched the Academy Award-winning documentary Man on Wire last night in preparation for re-reading Mordicai Gerstein's Caldecott Medal book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. The event celebrated in the book, Philippe Petit's high wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center, just seemed crazy to me, until I met Petit, up close and personal, in the film. He was a man with an impossible dream that he was ultimately able to achieve by the force of his own determination and irrepressible personality.
I was not charmed by the book when it won the Caldecott Meal in 2003. In fact I'm not even sure I read it. But after viewing Man on Wire and seeing the incredible time, effort and luck involved, I have a new appreciation for the story and the way Gerstein told it. For example, the use of line - both vertical and horizontal - highlight the 1340 foot height and the 440 lb cable that spanned the distance between the towers.
Gerstein's retelling is accurate, as far it goes. The illustration of Petit, who was balancing a policeman's cap on his nose after he was arrested, is actually in the film, and foreshadowed his appearance at the 2009 Oscars, when he did the same with the Oscar statuette (available to view on YouTube, of course). My favorite illustrations, however, are the 3 horizontals as the sun is rising on the morning of August 7, 1974 and Philippe is stretching out his arms, ready to make his dream come true.
Gerstein dedicates his book "To Philippe Petit for the gifts of his courage, his impeccable art, and his mythic sense of mischief." He also mentions that he'd often enjoyed Petit's New York street performances in the 1970's, although he did not see the walk between the towers himself. For me, the background knowledge about Petit himself has been critical to my appreciation of Gerstein's book. It engages interest in the book in the same way an author study can. Teachers and librarians should take advantage of this opportunity to pair the Man on Wire DVD with The Man Who Walked Between the Towers so kids can be awed and inspired by an event that will never be repeated. Adults will also want to read the award-winning Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Christy Toby,
I'm just curious as to why the book didn't charm you initially? I absolutely loved it.

Toby I think I didn't actually read it, but only looked for the art elements that the Caldecott committee found so extraordinary. I think there was some September 11 emotion taken into consideration as well. After seeing Man on Wire though, I agree that there's more to that book than I'd originally thought.

Karrie I just read this book for the first time and will be reading it again a few times before I write my actual review. The whole time I read it I found myself not believing that this feat could be done -- sort of in the same way I was hoping the Titanic didn't sink when I watched the movie. You know what the outcome is, yet you get caught in the story. For me, there was an element of profound sadness as I read the book the first time because in the back of my mind I was thinking about those towers not being there anymore. Then I thought how remarkable it was that this man did this -- he even laid down on the damned wire! -- and that his walking the wire is part of the World Trade Center history that will live on forever. I was instantly grateful for Philippe Petit and the legend he created by being so incredibly brave....or nutty. :)

Sabrina Hello Toby, My son and I read this book last night for his library book club. I didn't realize there was a movie as well. Thanks for posting info on it. I think my son would love to watch it and I'll look to get a copy.

Toby Sabrina wrote: "Hello Toby, My son and I read this book last night for his library book club. I didn't realize there was a movie as well. Thanks for posting info on it. I think my son would love to watch it and..."

Since it won an Oscar, you should be able to find it in your local public library. Enjoy!

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