Last week, I went back to a tried and true lesson plan: read aloud and discussion. I chose one book and read it to every class, kindergarten through 5th grade. I chose The Man Who Walked Between the Towers for this exercise. It is a picture book detailing how a street performer named Philippe Petit set up a tightrope between the Twin Towers. It’s children’s narrative nonfiction at its finest, and is a delightful read aloud.
For each class, I read the book and let the children’s questions lead our discussion. Fascinatingly, each grade seized on different pieces of the book to discuss. Which portion they seized upon was remarkably consistent from class to class across grades. I offer the following representative library moments for your enjoyment.
On tightrope walking:
“I can do that!”
“No, you can’t!”
“Yes I can too!”
There followed a conversation surrounding whether tightrope walking is difficult or not, culminating in demonstrations by students along a line in my storytime carpet.
On Philippe being sentenced to the public service of performing in the park:
“That judge didn’t really give him a punishment.”
“He should go to jail, he broke the law.”
We then had a long discussion on fairness and punishments, with a general consensus among students (though not their librarian) that though they didn’t want Philippe to be jailed or fined, they thought it wrong of the judge not to punish him.
On Philippe’s appearance:
“He looks like a girl.”
“He wears tights? He is a girl!”
“No he’s not! it says man.”
There followed an interesting discussion about gender presentation.
Possibly my favorite, because it contains my favorite question:
“When did Philippe die? Is he still alive?”
“Can we research that?”
I then taught a mini-lesson on using online resources at the request of students.
On the moment when Philippe walks away from the police who have informed him he is under arrest:
“The police will shoot him.”
“They’ll trip him by moving the wire.”
There followed a conversation about police shootings in which every student was riveted by the subject.
On the Twin Towers:
“They were attacked by suicide bombers.”
“No, they were attacked by airplanes.”
“Wait, on purpose?”
A somber discussion of the events of September 11, 2001 followed. None of these children were alive at the time, but many shared stories of where their parents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, etc were when it happened.