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Kim's Book Reviews
| Home | Picture Books | Traditional Literature | Poetry | Nonfiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction | Author Study: Lois Ehlert

by Mordicai Gerstein


Gerstein, Mordicai. THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS. Brookfield, Connecticut: Roaring Brook Press, 2003. ISBN 0761328688.
This beautifully written book tells the true story of French aerialist Philippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Gerstein begins the book in fair tale fashion ("Once there were two towers side by side.") and then introduces us to Philippe as he performs in the park. We learn about his life as a street performer, his past triumphs ("Hadn't he danced on a wire between the steeples of Notre Dame Cathedral above his amazed home city, Paris?"), and about his desire to walk between the two towers (He looked not at the towers but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope...") through simple, lyrical narration and beautiful ink and oil paintings. The painting of Philippe balancing on his rope, his body framed by the unfinished towers, magnifies our awareness of his desire to walk between them. As the authorities reject his request, the artwork and verse continue to pull us along; will he be successful in his quest? Philippe devises a plan with some friends, and, one evening, disguised as construction workers, they enter the south tower to hang a cable between the towers. Once again, the illustrations set the tone; the dark, vertical and horizontal perspectives creating tension as their attempt to attach the cable almost fails.
It is the artwork in the middle of the story, when Philippe is on the wire, that is the heart and soul of this book. The clean, vertical lines of the towers are contrasted by the curving earth below to dizzying effect. There are two foldouts in this section; one places us on the wire with Philippe with views of the city below, and the other, a vertical foldout, transforms our vantage point to street level. As the police chase Philippe back and forth between the towers, Gerstein's paintings continue to amaze and instill a sense of vertigo. This is in sharp contrast to the conclusion of the book where we see a stark, white page holding only the line, "Now the towers are gone." The accompanying page shows the post-9/11 New York City skyline. This may be a little abrupt for some young readers. Thankfully, Gerstein does not leave us with this desolate image; he concludes the book with a beautiful painting of the skyline with ghost-like images of the towers and Philippe walking between them on his high wire. The final lines of the book are a perfect homage to the towers and Philippe, "But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there. And part of that memory is the joyful morning, August 7, 1974, when Philippe Petit walked between them in the air."

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