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The Man Who Walked Between the Towers [Paperback]

Mordicai Gerstein
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 17 2007
In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This picture book captures the poetry and magic of the event with a poetry of its own: lyrical words and lovely paintings that present the detail, daring, and--in two dramatic foldout spreads-- the vertiginous drama of Petit's feat.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is the winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal, the winner of the 2004 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Picture Books, and the winner of the 2006 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children's Video.

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From Publishers Weekly

This effectively spare, lyrical account chronicles Philippe Petit's tight rope walk between Manhattan's World Trade Center towers in 1974. Gerstein (What Charlie Heard) begins the book like a fairytale, "Once there were two towers side by side. They were each a quarter of a mile high... The tallest buildings in New York City." The author casts the French aerialist and street performer as the hero: "A young man saw them rise into the sky.... He loved to walk and dance on a rope he tied between two trees." As the man makes his way across the rope from one tree to the other, the towers loom in the background. When Philippe gazes at the twin buildings, he looks "not at the towers but at the space between them.... What a wonderful place to stretch a rope; a wire on which to walk." Disguised as construction workers, he and a friend haul a 440-pound reel of cable and other materials onto the roof of the south tower. How Philippe and his pal shang the cable over the 140-feet distance is in itself a fascinating-and harrowing-story, charted in a series of vertical and horizontal ink and oil panels. An inventive foldout tracking Philippe's progress across the wire offers dizzying views of the city below; a turn of the page transforms readers' vantage point into a vertical view of the feat from street level. When police race to the top of one tower's roof, threatening arrest, Philippe moves back and forth between the towers ("As long as he stayed on the wire he was free"). Gerstein's dramatic paintings include some perspectives bound to take any reader's breath away. Truly affecting is the book's final painting of the imagined imprint of the towers, now existing "in memory"-linked by Philippe and his high wire. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal

Kindergarten-Grade 6-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.
Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique Illustrations; Interesting Story July 7 2004
This 2004 Caldecott winner is based on the true story of Philippe Petit. During the contruction of the World Trade Center, he devised a plan to walk a tightrope between the twin towers. The illustrations are the main feature of this book. There are some wonderful overhead perspectives that allow the reader to get a sense of how it would actually feel to walk hundreds of feet in the air. This book does not dwell on the loss of the towers (although it is mentioned), but rather celebrates the courageous spirit of Philippe Petit. Both children and adults will find this story interesting.
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By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
On an otherwise normal day in August 1974, a young Frenchman pulled off what may be the most impressive (not to mention foolhardy) wire-walking exhibition in history. New York City's early commuters looked up to the almost-completed World Trade Center towers to see a man, experienced aerialist Phillippe Petit, walking back and forth across them on a wire. This amazing (albeit highly illegal) achievement has now been immortalized in impressive ink and oil paintings in Mordicai Gerstein in The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Among the artwork you will find the ingenious use of two foldout illustrations, each one establishing an amazing change in perspective of Petit's wire-walking feat and making the drama of the event all that more palpable. Published in 2003 and the recipient of The Caldecott Medal, this book is sure to captivate many young minds with its story and artistry (with a sense of vertigo thrown in absolutely free of charge), and it does stand as something of a touching reminder of the two towers that fell on September 11, 2001 and the spell they cast in their own silent yet mighty fortitude.
Alongside the artwork is the story, economically told, of Petit's dream and the manner in which he made it come true. It describes how he and some friends dressed up as construction workers, hid out on both towers until nightfall, and got the wire-walking cable (which was a mere seven-eighths of an inch wide) in place, after which Petit walked, ran, danced, and even lay down on the outstretched wire over the course of nearly an hour. He was then, of course, arrested but, to my surprise, ordered only to perform his feats for the children of New York City. This is a fabulous story that will literally take your breath away, especially if you are as afraid of heights as I am, but I can't get over just how dangerous and illegal this was (to his friends as well as himself) and can only wonder how Petit got off so easily.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Using lyrical words and ink/oil paintings June 12 2004
In 1974 as the World Trade Center was being built, young French aerialist Philippe Petit spent almost an hour on a tightrope walking, dancing and doing tricks between the two towers. Man Who Walked Between The Towers tells his story using lyrical words and ink/oil paintings which are endearing and revealing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "This is a TRUE story, Miss Cameron?" June 9 2004
I have heard that very refrain from children time and time again while reading this book. In my Gypsy-like lifestyle of a substitute teacher, I took this book with me, knowing that it would enchant the students I had, no matter where I was. Every class I read this to was spellbound. They would gasp and stare and just could not believe that a REAL person ever did what Phillipe was doing! I had a first grader reach out to touch the sky under Phillipe on one spread, he was so enthralled. In a class of 29 very-hard-to-impress third graders that I was in for 6 weeks, we made a project out of it when they designed their own drawings on what they would walk between, because they were so inspired. During the reading, near the end, on the page that stated quietly "Now the towers are gone," I had very quiet acceptance of the missing towers. The author tells the story with such reverent delight (if it was ever possible to combine the two, Gerstein has) that children naturally fall in and accept the story as is. "The Man Who Walked Between The Towers" has become one of my favorite children's books and has earned a spot in my teaching "bag of tricks." It is very moving and inspiring, and highly deserving of the Caldecott Medal for 2004.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dreamy & Wondrous June 2 2004
Children will fall in love with this book & Phillipe will surely become their idol. The text is gentle & romantic, and the illustrations evoke the magic of the Towers. The ending is both triumphant & heartbreaking. The hard part for parents is answering their kids' inevitable question: "What happened to the Towers?"
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very daring frenchman May 20 2004
By A Customer
The year was 1974, Phillippe Petit gazes upon the twin towers. He is a French aerialist, a street performer. He juggles and rides a unicycle, but most of all he likes to walk on a rope he tied between two trees. One day he looked at the World Trade Center. He was barely looking at the towers themselves, more at the space between them. He had walked a rope between other high places; why not there? One day he came up with a plan to get atop the twin towers. What happened? Just read "The Man Who Walked Between The Towers"
And even though there's only a ghostly picture of the World Trade Center left in our mind, we will always remember the daring man who once walked between them.
This book was a great experience to read, but just reading it made me feel like I was waaaaaay too high up.
I would recommend this book to adults and children alike.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A man, a plan, a tower May 4 2004
After the events of September 11 there was an odd movement on behalf of the children's book publishers to explain the event in picture book form for the benefit of the little ones. Some of these attempts verged on the callous (paper cut airplanes flying into paper cut buildings) while others were nice thoughts but ultimately raised more questions than they answered ("Fireboat", for example). In the case of Mr. Mordicai Gerstein, however, a happy medium was reached. Here is a book that is all about the Twin Towers, but it does not linger on their fate. A mere two years after the events of 9/11, this book is an eloquent and elegant elegy to a moment when the Twin Towers helped to bring the world a great deal of wonder and joy.

The story is based on the true tale of one Philippe Petit. A French aerialist, Petit was adept at juggling, unicycle riding, and (as it happened) tightrope walking. When construction finished on the Twin Towers in 1974, Petit happened upon the crazy notion of walking between them. The man was no stranger to such a stunt. He had, after all, walked between the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral back in his native France. After asking the Tower's owners for permission, his request was quickly declined. To be allowed would fly in the face of a million safety regulations, after all. The quick thinking Petit reasoned that all that was left was to go ahead and do it anyway. Involving some friends, a construction disguise, and a four hundred and forty pound reel of cable, Petit successfully made it to the roof of one tower in the night and connected the line between the towers with help. Then, as the dawn broke, he did his famous walk across.
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