Posted by: Bill Lord | May 24, 2010

Man on Wire

I have missed out on blogging for quite a few weeks for several reasons but am trying to repair that having blogged about the Giraffes.

I have been working for some time on a small project linking books and films together for use in the Primary classroom and posted about books which had been made into films in November.

I have decided to post some ideas on here on an irregular basis and will start with several films and book which could be used over a half term.

I have chosen the book The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordacai Gerstein. It won the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 2004. It tells the true story of Philippe Petit, a man who walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on August 7, 1974 on a tightrope. Petit had previously walked between the towers of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the main towers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Petit crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge. Petit then decided to undertake what he called Le Coup which was to work between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre which was still under construction. The story itself reads almost like a heist movie as Petit and his companions had to trick their way into the towers, catch a freight lift to the top and fix a line between the towers. In order to do this a fishing line was fired across using a bow and arrow and then a rope attached to fishing line. As they pulled this across the rope was replaced with the metal tightrope. At this point one of the helpers was almost pulled to his death over the side of the building.

Once the line was fixed Petit was ready to fulfil his dream and set off across into the gap of 140 metres which was over the drop of 417 metres (more than a quarter of a mile.)

Shortly after 7:15 a.m., Petit stepped off the South Tower and onto his 3/4″  steel cable. He walked the wire for 45 minutes, making eight crossings between the towers.  As well as tightrope walking, he sat on the wire, gave knee salutes and, while lying on the wire, spoke with a gull circling above his head.

The story of Petit became almost forgotten with the exception of Petit’s book To Reach The Clouds until Mordacai Gerstein had the book published in 2003.

The Man Who Walked Between The Towers

The book contains the most wonderful illustrations and manages to capture the magic of what Petit achieved with humour and charm.

The book doesn’t reflect the heist movie element of the story but it is sufficient to work with children as young as Key Stage One whilst, tied in with use of videos shown below, it has been used in Year 6.

The book has also been made into a lovely animation by Michael Sporn with narration by Jake Gyllenhaal.

If using the book in Upper Key Stage Two I would advise using clips from the documentary Man on Wire which was released in 2008 and won a BAFTA and Oscar. The film is filmed as a heist movie with reconstructions, interviews with the main protagonists and films from 1974.  It is vital that teachers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland note that the film is rated as a 12 due to a very short clip – personally I would speak to the Senior management team and possibly the Governing Body gain clearance to show clips from the film (or all of the film with the exception of the offending section. The film is wonderful and will capture young writers’ imaginations.

Whilst carrying out a study in Upper Key Stage Two the book could support almost any form of writing.

journalistic writing
director’s cut – providing a commentary over the trailer for the film
persuasive writing – this again could be a voiceover for the trailer
writing from a point of view
diary writing
poetry…almost anything!

Not forgetting bringing children up to date watching Philippe Petit accepting his Oscar.

If you would to share any ideas, look at some planning or work together on developing this resource further please do not hesitate in contacting me.


  1. One additional ingredient in talking about this incident, and the Twin Towers generally is how our reaction to the films and books is affected by our knowledge of what happened to the TT later. There’s the possibility of inroducing the concept that a great event changes the past as well as the present and the future. How?
    Because I remember the Twin Towers tightrope walk very vividly from the it happened. But Sept 11th actually affects my memory of the tightrope walk, giving it a different intensity and resonance. So in that sense Sept 11 affected the past for me. Similarly a woman I know had her 21st birthday party in the Windows on the World restaurant in the WTC. A vivid memory for her that was radically changed emotionally by Sept 11.
    Just a thought, but it works particularly with older children some of whom can come up with their own examples of a memory being changed by a current event. (Death of a grandparent is one obvious one)

    • Thanks for this, Gerald. It is interesting that the makers of Man of Wire make no mention of the destruction of the twin towers for fear of being seen to mix the humour of Petit with the dark subject matter of the attack.
      I think that, in a topic with Upper Key Stage two children, it could be used to open up some brilliant discussions and allow the children to develop a wider understanding of the world they live in.

  2. Can I say a HUGE thank you for this. I was a 13 year old in Manhattan and had nearly forgotten about this happening. This blog has brought back wonderful memories of the Twin Towers in happier times ;o)

    I look forward to using this with my class next year.

    • I am so glad you find it and are going to use it to teach. Perhaps we could link your class up with another one working on the same topic. It would be fantastic to put them in touch with each other.

  3. Would love to do a link up! I teach yr 5/6 EBD kids (mostly boys)

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