This children’s picture book is based on a real event that occurred in 1974. Phililppe Petit was a tightrope artist who could not resist the allure of the twin towers of the World Trade Center In New York City. He managed to sneak a cable between the two towers during the dark hours and during the morning rush hour spent an hour walking, dancing and performing a quarter mile in the sky, between the two towers.
The story told in this book is amazing, a man plotting to walk on a tightrope between the twin towers? Then, to relate to children that this really did happen, how exciting that makes the story. The imagination seemed to go into overtime as I read the book seeing it as if it was happening right in front of me, imagining the plotting and coordination to get the reels of cable and equipment to the rooftops and not be stopped.
The pictures in the book tell much of the story and portray the excitement, anticipation and angst as the event unfolds. The words are almost an afterthought, aiding by laying down a storyline. The passage of time was clearly defined by the illustrations. While the plan was to have this event take place before dawn, watching the lightening of the pictures by a rising sun brought excitement and apprehension that it would not be accomplished.
The illustrations are detailed and almost tell the story on their own. They lend themselves to further exploration and talk with children, asking about the details, posing questions as to “how do you think they felt when the cable fell,” etc. There are two fold out pages in the book making for three page spreads which did a great job to emphasize the height of the towers and the cable Philippe was walking on, and the distance between the towers. I can honestly say that looking at the pictures gave me a slight feeling of vertigo.
The final illustration in the book is the one that impacted me the most. It is an illustration of the New York City skyline, without the towers standing, but with a faint imprint of them as if in our memory. For me, that single image was the most powerful of the book, pulling the entire thing toether and making the feat Philippe accomplished much more wonderful and something that needs to be shared as it can never be duplicated.
Winner 2004 Caldecott Medal
From School Library Journal: “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.”
From Booklist: “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. “
This is a book that I have a harder time pairing with another book except in the manner of a Caldecott storytime. I think the book can better be paired with a lesson plan on the World Trade Center, or the events of September 11, 2001. Bringing this children’s book into a high school room and reading it to the class would have a great impact, I believe.