Sunday, September 12, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 3 - The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Module 3 - The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

Gerstein, Mordicai. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Roaring Book Press, 2003. ISBN: 0-7613-1791-0

A beautiful story told in words and pictures about Philippe Petite, a real-life acrobat and artist who walked between the Twin Towers for a full hour back and forth with no net and a mile drop underneath him. The book shows how he set up the rope (illegally!) and what happens after his historic walk.

What I thought
This is one of the best post 9/11 books about the Twin Towers that I have ever seen or read. Instead of mourning the towers, this book memorializes them and remembers a beautiful, fun moment from their past. It celebrates life and the joy of accomplishment. It celebrates daring and art. The book is a fun read.

The art is a perfect match for the lyrical, beautiful text. The drawings of Philippe as he performs are joyful, and for someone who hates heights, harrowing! The sense of perspective and potential drop is captured so well, I worried about Philippe every page he was on the wire. There is even a scene where he lays down on the wire: amazing!

This book has the potential to really spark emotions. My partner, who helped clean up at ground zero as a medic, had a hard time listening to me read the story. My kids, however, enjoyed the story very much and were fascinated by the pictures. We ended up reading this book multiple times.

Outside Reviews
"Here’s a joyful true story of the World Trade Center from a time of innocence before 9/11. In 1974 French trapeze artist Philippe Petit walked a tightrope suspended between the towers before they were completed. Gerstein’s simple words and dramatic ink-and-oil paintings capture the exhilarating feats, the mischief, and the daring of the astonishing young acrobat. He knew his plan was illegal, so he dressed as a construction worker, and, with the help of friends,lugged a reel of cable up the steps during the night and linked the buildings in thesky. As dawn broke, he stepped out on the wire and performed tricks above the  city. Gerstein uses varied perspectives to tell the story—from the close-up jacket picture of one foot on the rope to the fold-out of Petit high above the traffic, swaying in the wind. Then there’s a quiet view of the city skyline now, empty of  the towers, and an astonishing image of the tiny figure high on the wire between the ghostly buildings we remember."
Rochman, H. (2003). The Man Who Walked between the Towers (Book). Booklist, 100(5), 498. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database.
"As this story opens, French funambulist Philippe Petit is dancing across a tightrope tied between two trees to the delight of the passersby in Lower Manhattan. Gerstein places him in the middle of a balancing act, framed by the two unfinished World Trade Center towers when the idea hits: "He looked not at the towers, but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope...." On August 7, 1974, Petit and three friends, posing as construction workers, began their evening ascent from the elevators to the remaining stairs with a 440-pound cable and equipment, prepared to carry out their clever but dangerous scheme to secure the wire. The pacing of the narrative is as masterful as the placement and quality of the oil-and-ink paintings. The interplay of a single sentence or view with a sequence of thoughts or panels builds to a riveting climax. A small, framed close-up of Petit's foot on the wire yields to two three-page foldouts of the walk. One captures his progress from above, the other from the perspective of a pedestrian. The vertiginous views paint the New York skyline in twinkling starlight and at breathtaking sunrise. Gerstein captures his subject's incredible determination, profound skill, and sheer joy. The final scene depicts transparent, cloud-filled skyscrapers, a man in their midst. With its graceful majesty and mythic overtones, this unique and uplifting book is at once a portrait of a larger-than-life individual and a memorial to the towers and the lives associated with them."
Lukehart, W., Jones, T., Toth, L., Charnizon, M., Grabarek, D., & Larkins, J. (2003). The Man Who Walked between the Towers (Book). School Library Journal, 49(11), 125. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database.

Using this book in the library
At the library I work at this book is considered a biography of Philippe Petite. This could be a good starting point for using the book, especially since many people have the idea that a biography is a boring book about someone's life! This book takes one important incident in Philippe's life and highlights it for the reader. If a person wants to know more about Philippe, they have to find out for themselves. Because this story is so interesting, children won't mind trying to find out more about him or to maybe try more biographies. My kids were very excited to find out that Philippe was a real person who had really performed this beautiful act! I suspect other kids would get a kick out of finding that out and learning more.

For Fun:
Watch news footage from the day Philippe performed his daring act! Best part of the video is watching Philippe in the police station balancing the officer's hats on his nose! There are more videos about him on YouTube, including an interview of him by Steven Colbert.

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