In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Before the fall...

 Dear Annie,
Once there were two towers side by side. They were each a quarter of a mile high, 1,340 feet.  The tallest buildings in New York City.
 So begins Mordecai Gerstein's tribute,
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
, the tale of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the towers in 1974, before the World Trade Center opened.  
He looked not at the towers, but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope.
It's a picture book which tells kids the story of Petit's feat. He's a man who wants to do something because he feels it's fun, and he's willing to overcome many obstacles to make it happen.  This includes shooting an arrow from one tower to the other to start running the cable, hours of pulling heavy cable across, and then defying police who demand he come down.  The illustrations put you there.  As he starts across, we see:
And then, closer:
One could fall into the page. Then perspective shifts to the point of view of those watching from below.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers was published in 2003, and adults can't help but think of September 11 when they read it. This book is not trying to explain September 11 to small children, although it acknowledges that the towers aren't there any more.   What it does is celebrate the life of objects that are now gone, rather than focusing on their death.  It acknowledges absence, but remembers a good yarn from an earlier time. It concludes:
Now the towers are gone. 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.
Every two or three months, a customer who I really like comes to the store and buys another hardcover copy of this book.  Once she bought two, so that she'd have an extra copy if she needed it.  She and her kids are so fond of the book, they give it to friends fairly frequently. She has an I-love-this-book intensity when she talks about it, because it's meant so much to them as a family.  I used to stock only the paperback, but lately, I've made sure I have two hardcovers on the shelf too, for her, or possibly someone who received the book from her.



1 comment:

  1. Wow. What a beautiful looking book. I love the opening sentence; it makes me think of the fantasy books I loved as a child...almost an Arthurian legend, that one line, and then I'm brought back to the reality that I remember those towers myself.

    And the perspective in the illustrations!

    I'll be sure to look for this one. Thank you.