• It’s the birth date of Walter Crane (1845-1915), Household Stories From the Collection of the Brothers Grimm, The Baby’s Own Aesop.
  • Also born on this day was sharpshooter Annie Oakley (1860-1926). Read Bull’s- Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley by Sue Macy, Annie Oakley by Charles Wills, and Annie Oakley Saves the Day by Anna DiVito.
  • On this day in 2008, U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps sets the Olympic record for the most gold medals (eight in Beijing and six in Athens) won by an individual in Olympic history. Read Stotan! and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, both by Chris Crutcher.
  • It’s International Left-Handers’ Day. Read The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer.

Born in France on August 13, 1949, Philippe Petit became a high-wire artist best remembered for an event that took place on August 7, 1974. That day he walked on a tightrope between two World Trade Center skyscrapers in New York City. In the air for around an hour, he danced and performed tricks—as New Yorkers and the police looked on. He even lay down on the high wire and took a rest. No stranger to this kind of acrobatic performance, Petit had walked above the skies of Paris on a wire strung between the towers of Notre Dame.

Author and artist Mordicai Gerstein had long been fascinated with Petit’s life and his daring act that August day. Gerstein finally made Petit the subject of a picture book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, which first shows Petit’s daily routine as a New York City street performer. He juggles, rides a bike, and walks across a rope between two trees. Readers watch Philippe plan his next bold act of accessing the World Trade Center site late at night, and then stringing a cable from one building to the other with the help of friends. Most of this thirty-two-page picture book shows incredible aerial views of New York as Petit walks and performs above the city with a feeling of complete freedom. Two folded pages open out to give a sense of the panorama that Petit sees as well as an idea of how he appears from the ground. Safely on the other side, Petit is arrested. His sentence is to perform for children in the city.

Every line of this meticulously laid out picture book, winner of the Caldecott Medal, celebrates Petit’s industry and daring, his joy at practicing his craft and pulling off this incredible feat. It is only the last two pages that bring this picture book, stunningly, to another level: “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.”

In The Man Who Walked Between the Towers Mordicai Gerstein created a way to introduce the tragic events of September 11, 2001 to children who had yet to be born. What he accomplished is remarkable—a book that makes adults cry and children ask questions. For all readers, he establishes that memory of a beautiful August day when the Twin Towers still stood—and a human being walked between them while spectators looked on with wonder.

Here’s a page from The Man Who Walked Between the Towers:


Originally posted August 13, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: History, New York, Sports
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers


  1. Jory Hearst says:

    I agree this is a moving story that is really about 9/11 — incredibly effective and beautiful.

    I recently read a lesser known work of Gerstein’s, called The Old Country, a middle grade novel that is sort of an “Old World” folk-tale, with a very surprising twist of an ending! Really enjoyed this book, although it’s completely different from The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. He does such a range of work.

  2. Anita says:

    Jory: Thanks for the comment. I agree that Gerstein has an amazing range — from the playful to the profound.

  3. Jen Vincent says:

    This is such a great book. I have read it on September 11th. I love that it is a different and memorable story about the World Trade Center towers. Thanks for sharing this book with everyone.

  4. Nancy says:

    This is one of my favorite books to read to children. Talk about your wide-eyed faces looking up. They are fascinated!

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.