Mordicai Gerstein, author and illustrator of children’s books, dies at 83

Mordicai Gerstein

Mordicai Gerstein was an American artist, writer and director, best known for illustrating and writing children’s books. He passed away on September 24, 2019.


Mordicai Gerstein, beloved author and illustrator of children’s books, has died at the age of 83.

Gerstein was the master behind books like “The Night World”, “The Sleeping Gypsy” and “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers”, which earned him the Caldecott Award for Distinguished American Children’s Picture Books in 2004.

He died on September 24 at his home in Westhampton, Massachusetts, on The New York Times reported. His wife, artist Susan Yard Harris, told The Times he died of metastatic esophageal cancer.

Gerstein has always been an artist, attending art school in his hometown of Los Angeles and settling in New York soon after. He made a living painting and designing animated television commercials and children’s shows, but that all changed in 1970, when he met author Elizabeth Levy.

Levy, a young author at the time, had written a children’s mystery book and asked Gerstein to illustrate it. He did, launching a long career that spanned decades.

“From the start, I loved the picture book support. It was film, drawing and theater at the same time, “he wrote. on his site.

With Levy’s encouragement, he began to write his own books. His first, “Arnold of the Ducks”, was published in 1983.

Roaring Book Press and Millbrook Press

“The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” is Gerstein’s most popular work, recounting the day when Philippe Petit walked, lay down, knelt and danced on a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The book won the 2004 Caldecott Medal for its illustrations.

Gerstein wrote and illustrated over 40 books during his career, receiving over a dozen awards. The Caldecott award-winning book, “The Man Who Walked Between Towers,” was published in 2003. It told the story of French wireframe Philippe Petit, who threaded a cable between the two World Towers Trade Center. in August 1974. Petit then spent an hour walking, sitting and dancing on the cable while amazed spectators watched from the streets below.

“I didn’t want to just tell the story of the walk – I wanted the book to be the walk between the cardboard covers,” he said in his speech of acceptance of the prize.

He approached the destruction of the towers in the 9/11 attacks in a simple but poignant way. The book ended with a page that only contained these words: “Now the towers are gone. ”

Topics Gerstein covered ranged from accounts of Bible stories to imaginary worlds, often touching on larger questions about human life and experience.

“Each book seems to be, in some way, fundamentally different from the others; I have to learn to do each one, and each is a surprise to me, ”he wrote. “I think making books, or any kind of art, could also be like mining. Artists dig into their lives and their imaginations and never know what they will find there. It’s always an adventure.

He once said that all of his books are about people and all of the stories, in some ways, are about “this mystery of being a human being.”

“Why are we here and what are we doing? What are we supposed to do? How am I supposed to be a kid? How to be a teenager? How to be me I think all the stories are about that, and my stories certainly are, ”he said. in a 2005 interview with

About his artistic process, he continued, “I imagine that I am the person and I try to draw the feeling of what it is to be that person. ”

Grover Z. Barnes

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