Friday, January 24, 2014

Reading: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Picture Book)

"Once there were two towers side by side."  This line introduces readers to The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, a children's book that is certain to evoke questions and conversations about why the twin towers are no longer there.  The answer to that question is not found in this book, however, as Mordicai Gerstein chose to honor the memory of the towers by writing about the feat (and the feet, too, I suppose) of Philippe Petit, an independent spirit who walked a high wire "between the towers."  

Just thinking about walking between two towers and what lies beneath is enough to make me queasy, and the image in which Philippe is walking high in the air, balancing himself with the wind blowing his hair and cars driving furiously on the New York City roads below, remains imprinted in my mind, helping me to comprehend the magnitude of this act.  At that point in the book, the text also mentions the wind, so the illustrations capture the details in the text perfectly!

Although I know that Philippe was an adventurous, seemingly fearless man, I feel like I never really got to know him personally.  What was his childhood like that caused him to grow into such a daring person?  Why did he leave Paris?  Was he planning to cross the towers when he lived across the Atlantic? Who were the friends that were with him, and did they get punished for helping Philippe?  And what about the boys mentioned at the end of the book who pulled on Philippe's wire and almost made him fall!  Did they get in trouble?  They could have hurt him badly!  It seems I'm getting bogged down into wanting to know more details, but the author simply chose to tell the story of Philippe walking between the towers, and his illustrations do an - for lack of better word - illustrious job conveying that. 
The illustration of Philippe walking
between the towers reveals
that the wind is blowing, a
perspective that makes me a
little queasy - and a lot impressed!

Since I do have so many questions after reading this book, I think about the opportunities that await young readers to take this story and expand it!  What happened to Philipe after he walked between the towers?  What was his childhood like?  There are so many possibilities for writing and/or making predictions, as well as drawing conclusions.  AND students interested in knowing more about Philippe can begin their own independent research to learn more about him!  I know that I am going to!  Finally, Philippe achieved his dreams, no matter the naysayers, and he did what made him feel "alone and happy and absolutely free."  While I do not walk thin, high wires between tall buildings, my hair swaying in the breeze, I experience those same feelings when I run.  I have competed in several marathons, and nothing has been more exhilarating than running down historic, hilly streets of Boston or across the Pacific Ocean on the Golden Gate Bridge (my hair sticking to the sides of my anguished face, I'm sure).  I wish that feeling for all of my students and hope that they could now, or someday, connect with Philippe as he walked between the towers. 

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers was published in 2003.  I wonder if this is a book that the author started working on before or after September 11, 2001?  And if it was a task taken on before that fateful Tuesday morning, how did the story change?  After reading this book, I have many questions, which will lead me to more reading and research.  When an author's book leaves readers wanting to know more and searching for knowledge, then I think he has created a masterpiece.  

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