A review of Walking Through Walls by Karen Cioffi

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Walking Through Walls
by Karen Cioffi
Illustrated by Willow Raven
4RV Publishing
2013, ISBN: 978-0-9889617-7-7

Twelve year old Wang has only one desire – to become an Eternal. With the power of an Eternal, Wang believes he would be able to become rich, and avoid working for his father or becoming tired and stooped like his father. Against his parents’ wishes, Wang leaves his home and travels to the mountains in search of his dream, but he soon learns that there are no shortcuts to wisdom.

Walking Through Walls is pitched at that difficult reading age where picture books are no longer enough, and young adult novels are either too hard, or too disturbing. Walking Through Walls is just right for around 8-12 year olds (or to read to younger children), providing an engaging, engrossing story with a strong plot, lots of atmosphere, and a positive message that is perfect for young readers, without being preachy. The story is set in the sixteenth century, and is based on an ancient Chinese story “Taoist Master and the Lao Mountain,” also an animated film Lao Mountain Taoist. Cioffi fills the story with details to evoke the setting and timeframe, from the mountains in the distance, lemon lilies, yellow cakes with red berries and tea, and the scents and sounds of rural life. Cioffi has done her research and created a believable setting for her magical  tale full of interesting twists. The visual imagery is rich and evocative:

While reading, Wang’s eyelids grew heavy. Suddenly, a magnificent dragon with shimmering red and silver scales appeared. It was larger and more spectacular than anything Wang had ever seen or even imagined. Before he could think, the dragon lifted Wang onto its back and carried him off. They soared over the mountaintops and through the clouds. Wang held on tight. (5)

The book is set off by Willow Raven’s detailed ink drawings that begin each of the chapters, supporting the text. Cioffi provides a range of activities at the back of the book as well as reading comprehension questions and broader activities and some additional information about The Ming Dynasty, family life during this period, foods, occupations, and dragon lore. Walking Through Walls is a lovely book with a great character arc that will draw readers in. The morality is clear, but never heavy-handed, making its point through Wang’s growing comprehension. The book is perfect for homeschoolers or for use in the primary classroom, and will also provide a pleasurable reading experience for reluctant or younger readers ready to move onto chapter books.