Mordicai Gerstein was born November 24, 1935 in Los Angeles. He attended the Chouinard Institute of Art before moving to New York City where he lived and worked for twenty-five years making animated films for television. He tells on his official website, that he never thought to be something else but a painter, when he grows up (http://www. mordicaigerstein. com). To support his family, he designed and directed animated television commercials.
In the mid 1960’s he made some films of his own until 1970, when he met Elizabeth Levy, who asked him to illustrate for a children’s book she has written.
Encouraged by her and other editors, he started to write his own books in 1980s. In 2004, he received the Caldecott medal for his book “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. ” Besides the Caldecott medal, he received numerous awards such as AJLA SidneyTaylor Award in 2005, Hornbook Award in 2004 and was chosen as the gold award winner of parents’ choice in 2002.
His works include among others Sholom’s Treasure, What Charlie Heard, The Wild Boy, The Mountains of Tibet and many more.
Mordicai Gerstein is also a painter, sculptor, and prize-winning designer and director of animated films. Mordicai Gerstein lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, Susan Yard Harris, who is also an illustrator, and their daughter, Risa (http://www. mordicaigerstein. com).
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers Narrative Consideration In 2003, Roaring Brook Press published Gerstein’s children’s book “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. this story opens, French aerialist Philippe Petit is dancing across a tightrope tied between two trees to the delight of the passersby in Lower Manhattan. Gerstein places him in the middle of a balancing act, framed by the two unfinished World Trade Center towers when the idea hits: “He looked not at the towers, but at the space between them and thought, what a wonderful place to stretch a rope” (Gerstein, 2004, p. 4). The rising action takes place when Petit knew that the police and the owners of the towers would never allow him walk across the two towers.
So he and his friends disguised as construction workers, carried a 440 pound reel of cable and other equipment on an August evening, causing the conflict in this story. After carrying everything up to the roof, Petit and his friends tied the line to an arrow and shot it from one tower to the other and tightened it. After the dawn he started to walk on the wire and the story has reached its climax. He was arrested and was sentenced to “perform in the park for the children of the city” (Gerstein, 2004, p. 25). This story ends with the picture of the World Trade Center which is long gone now.
Based on the narratives, this book contains characteristics of a good plot since it includes “a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning should quickly engage the reader’s interest (…) established by using characters and a conflict that the reader can relate to and care about. The conflict should grab the attention of the reader and create a desire to find out what happens” (Sawyer, 2012, p. 84). Gerstein’s story definitely encompasses this concept. The main character, Philip Petit is captivating and fascinating. His courage and stubbornness can be detected throughout the story.
Sawyer (2012) mentions in his textbook that “a good author will let the reader know the personality and motivation of the character through the character’s thoughts, words, actions, language, and expressions (…) the character may change and grow, but the basic portrayal must remain intact” (p. 78-79). Petit’s character certainly remains consistent throughout the story and provides the reader with the feeling of intensity and even personal closeness to Petit himself, while following his actions closely. Interestingly, this mesmerizing story has a real hidden theme which is the 9/11.
Using Petit’s character as the medium, Gerstein addresses the effect of the tragedy happened ten years ago. This enables the story to evoke different emotions in readers and offers the opportunities to tackle different topics depending on the level of understanding and maturity of a child. Art Consideration “In picture books, the illustrations play a key role in conveying the message of the story” (Sawyer, 2012, p. 93). This can be seen in this book. The story is masterfully illustrated using pen and oil colors. Gerstein’s drawing is dramatic and even reckless.
This is especially suitable for this story as the plot itself is full of suspense. As the conflict arises and is reaching its climax, the pacing of sentences decreases and eventually becomes a single sentence in order to draw the attention from the readers to the illustration and to increase the expectancy. In its climax, the text completely disappears and a small, framed close-up of Petit’s foot on the wire yields to two three-page foldouts of the walk. One captures his progress from above, the other from the perspective of a pedestrian.
Even though the text is not placed consistently on the same line, they are simple and short enough to follow and are always synchronized with the pictures. The illustration is mesmerizing in its color which matches to the different mood as the events take place chronologically. “The final scene depicts transparent, cloud-filled skyscrapers, a man in their midst. 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” (www. amazon. com). Overall analysis
After reading this book, I had mixed feelings. First of all, I strongly feel that this targets readers at the age seven and above. The reason is first of all the theme which addresses the 9/11. It is a tricky and difficult topic for children to understand as any tragedy can be. Second reason is the moral of the story. Even though the Caldecott award does not necessarily focuses on the moral or any educational intentions, I did not agree with Petit’s actions. After reading the book, I automatically assumed that the story encouraged the reader to follow any goal they have whether it is ethical or not.
The main character even gets away with his rule-breaking action without any punitive consequences. It is clear that his action is an admiration for his profound commitment to his own “mission” and his willingness not to limit his life according to the constraints set up by society. However, this book not only depicts but even seemingly glorifies deceits and it can be alarming for authoritative figures such as us future teachers. One can argue that it is inspiring to observe someone having such tremendous control of their body and mind with determination.
Nonetheless, the way this book comes across can be defiant of authority especially of the police, given that there were many policemen who came to serve alongside the firemen during/after 9/11. Perhaps this book will be a good tool to discuss these issues. In conclusion, despite my disagreement with the moral of the story, I have to give props to the author/illustrator for his skilled and entrancing story and drawings. It is, without doubt, a very interesting story and something that can be conferred in depth.
In this regard, I think this book does deserve the Caldecott medal. Although I did not think this book was suitable to read to my children, if used wisely by knowing their level of maturity and understanding, this book can be utilized effectively to help them think for themselves. In his acceptance speech in 2004, Gerstein emphasized this by saying “children do need adults; I think it’s children that make us become the adults they need. We must give them love and nourishment and books, which, as we know, are part of a healthy diet.
My intention in all my books is to give children just what I want to give everyone: something beautiful, magical, funny, and soulful: something that provokes good questions: questions about what an incomprehensible, beautiful and seemingly impossible thing it is to be a human being in this incomprehensible, beautiful and seemingly impossible world. What could be more difficult and more wonderful? ” (http://www. mordicaigerstein. com) I hope that he follows through with this philosophy and continues to create children’s book based on this regard.