Friday, May 15, 2009

the man who walked between the towers

For some time now, I've been fascinated by the story of Philippe Petit and his historic, astonishing wire walk between the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Earlier this year, in an effort to bring more picture books into my students' lives, I grabbed a copy of Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between The Towers off my younger son's bedroom bookshelf and placed it on display in my classroom. I've read it a few times to some of my students, and they always fire off question after question at the book's conclusion: Yo, did that dude fall? How'd he do that? Was he crazy? Is he still alive? I've realized that the themes in this story are particularly meaningful to the population I work with: having a dream, safety, right vs. wrong, crime and punishment, radical self-expression.

I recently got a new student, a 14 year old kid who has been in the system for too many years of his young life. I was warned before I got him: "Watch this one. Started a lot of trouble in the last program he was in. Tough kid." When She'Vaughn saw the book on display on my shelf for the first time, I couldn't help but notice the changes on his face. His eyes got wide, his lower jaw went a little slack, and--he smiled. "Yo, I remember this book. Read it when I was in 4th grade. This book's ill."

"She'Vaughn, I love this book. We'll read it here, if you'd like to."


Today we read it, and talked more about the story. I loved watching She'Vaughn hold the book, flip through the pages, feel the raised Caldecott stamp on the cover with his fingers. I asked him to imagine himself as Philippe at the moment he stepped out onto the wire and describe how he felt, what he saw, and what he heard. Here is what he wrote in his writer's journal:

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers

If I was him, I would see, a huge city! A lot of cars.
I see me up high. Watching the statue of Liberty. Saying hi
to it. Hearing birds chirping, asking me why am I so high
in the sky? I say I'm livin the dream I always dreamed. Feeling
free away from all of the Bad and the Good. Relax! Having fun,
feeling amazed of what I'm doin here. Praying I don't fall.
Screaming I'm on top of the world!!....Being told nothing.
Feeling what the towers feel. Knowing I'm making history,
knowing that no one could stop me until I feel like I had a nuff
of the day. Looking at New York harbor, saying I'm free as a bird.

My eyes got glassy. I told him I loved what he wrote.

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