Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers: "Now the towers are gone."

We got into a little bit of bed time story rut recently and I've updated our library books with some new books (some winners and some others that will be making a trip back to the library).

Today I was reading a book to my just-turned-five-year-old daughter called The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. This 2003 award winning children's book is a beautifully illustrated story of Philippe Petit's high wire act he performed between the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center on August 7, 1974.

I became familiar with Phillipe Petit's journey is the suspenseful Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire which came out in 2008. The story is remarkable not just for the daring and dangerous tight rope act itself, but for the efforts to break into the tours, and string the wire in the middle of the night. The true story is gold for drama and intrigue.

Now the choice to tell the story of Petit in a children's story is a little more unique, particularly since it seems like atypical story material.

Yet it's also seems clear that Gerstein was telling to story of Petit as a homage to the World Trade Center and the 9/11 tragedy.  And the output is this children's story of man who breaks onto the roof, gets charged for committing criminal acts after performing death-defying acts.

Yet when I was reading this to my daughter after all the excitement comes a page that reads a simple line "Now the tours are gone." With a picture next to it of the New York today.

My daughter stopped me, "Why are the tours gone?" She asked.

I suddenly thought to myself What was I thinking choosing this book, what is the right answer?

I don't have a long term plan of minimizing the truth about things, such as 9/11, war, terrorism, and death. But in the same way a question like "Where do babies come from?" doesn't warrant a full explanation on the heels of one's fifth birthday - I felt compelled to figure out any easy answer.

"They're gone now," I said.

This was not, enough. "Why?" she pressed.

"They were destroyed," I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"There was a day not too long ago and they were destroyed, both of them at the same time." I figured giving more information that was also vague would be enough. And in this case it was. We turned the page, finished the book and the conversation was done.

That said, it left me with a feeling that there was some recent history that probably warranted some explaining at some point, and I wasn't sure when that would happen.

There are certain parts of history that are complex, in fact a lot. Parts that aren't for explaining to young children - whether they be things like genocide, slavery, or even war for that matter.

I think I can make it a little while before I have to explain something like the two million lives lost in the genocides during the Khmer Rogue in Cambodia. Yet, I'm not sure at what age discussions about the 9/11 attacks will be a conversation at our dinner table. Will this be something that comes up in school? Will we as parents address it with her at another time? It's hard to know when it's appropriate. It's hard to talk about evil, pain, and death.

We could have discussed it today when we read The Man Who Walked Between The Towers but the timing didn't seem right. She was wanting to understand the plot point. She knew it was a real story, but to her the towers being gone seemed out of the blue in the context of the story. And I suppose, that in itself that to is part of the story. But today was not the day.


Unknown said...

I'm a special education resource teacher who works with struggling readers in small groups. I recently read "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers" as an instructional read-aloud to one group. They were absolutely fascinated, and these fifth and sixth graders who have reading difficulty were so engrossed in the story of Philippe Petit. They asked wonderful questions and eagerly tore into a post-reading writing assignment. The illustrations in this book, also by the author, are awe-inspiring. I can't recommend this book highly enough; it's fantastic and one of the best additions to my classroom library in a long time. To get more info please visit

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