The Man Who Walked
Between the Towers
by Mordicai Gerstein


Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8


The World Trade Center tightrope story

Sometimes you've just gotta do what you've gotta do.

That's one message of Mordicai Gerstein's Caldecott Medal winning effort to spin some positive memories of New York's World Trade Centers, the Twin Towers built in the 1970s and brought down on September 11th, 2001.

Gerstein tells the true story of Philippe Petit, a French street performer who felt he had no choice but to mount the still-under-construction twin towers and walk between them, a quarter mile up in the air.

He just had to do what he had to do.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers details all the efforts required to perform such a stunt, which was in no way approved by the authorities.

  • Sneaking onto the construction site
  • Hauling 440 pounds of steel cable to the roof
  • Bow-and-arrowing a rope from one tower to the other
  • Dragging that 440 pounds of cable over the yawning chasm from the South Tower to the North

And then, after a night of such superhuman effort, the tightrope walk itself.

Petit wasn't content just to walk from one tower to the other. He went back and forth, walking, dancing, running and kneeling, with hordes of NYC policeman shouting at him with bullhorns from both rooftops.


The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

collaged image

If your family's sense of law and order runs toward the clear cut black and white, or if you have a child with a daredevil spirit that already frightens the heck out of you, then this may not be a book for your reading list.

Petit is arrested and convicted, but it should be noted that his sentencing judge is depicted as smiling down upon him, and that his sentence consisted of entertaining children in the park.

The book's message is that Philippe did something good, something that - at least in his mind - needed doing - and his follow-up performance in the park is a well-attended and joyous celebration.

Gerstein captures the events in pen and ink drawings splashing over with joyful watercolors, and he won the Caldecott Medal for his efforts.

Interestingly, the people of New York are depicted in colorful attire, while both Philippe and the grim-faced police are dressed in black.

Perhaps they have in common that they have to do what they have to do. Though in his final performance, in the park, Philippe dresses entirely in white, freed - possibly - from whatever it was that drove him to do what he did.

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers makes the case that sometimes you have to do what's right for you, even if the rules state otherwise.

Whether or not you agree with the message, Gerstein delivers it with a reason to remember the World Trade Centers positively. Turning negative into a positive: that's a value any family can agree with.

To Reach the Clouds is Petit's own telling of the story.

More award winners.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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