||August 3, 2011
Walking Through Walls is a middle-grade fantasy adventure based on an ancient Chinese tale and set in 16th century China.
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Walking Through Walls
Wang longs to be rich…and powerful. At twelve-years-old, he already knows more about the Eternals and their way of life than many of the adults in his village. Learning about these mystics takes his thoughts away from the possibility of working in the wheat fields all his life, like his father. Wang has far grander goals.
The Master put his hand on Wang’s shoulder and drew him close. He took a stick from the ground and wrote five words in the dirt. “Read these words and remember them.” Wang obeyed and in an instant the words disappeared. “You now have the words to perform the magic. It is the magic formula. You can never say the words out loud or in a whisper. You are to say them in your mind and heart.”
[. . .] “Uh,” he [Wang] paused, “Master, what will happen if I do say the words to the magic formula out loud?”
“Wang, you are trying to delay your task. It is a good question, though. Your tongue will cease its movement if you speak the words to the formula.”
Wang’s eyes opened wide and he flung his hands on top of his head. “Never to talk again! I am sorry I asked for the formula. What if I slip?”
Kristin J. Johnson
Title: WALKING THROUGH WALLS
Author: Karen Cioffi
Illustrator: Aidana WillowRaven
Publisher: 4RV Publishing, LLC
Genre: Middle Grade/Young Adult
Reviewer: Kristin Johnson
Wang bound the last bunch of wheat stalks as the sun beat down on the field. Sweat poured from the back of his neck drenching the cotton shirt he wore.
I hate doing this work. He hurled the bundles on a cart. “Father, the bales are stacked. I am going home; it is too hot.”
Twelve-year-old Wang longed to be an Eternal. He craved wealth . . . and power….
So opens Karen Cioffi’s retelling of a classic Chinese fable. In just a few sentences of this 61-page children’s book, she establishes the main character, a disgruntled twelve-year-old boy, and the conflict, his dreams of a life away from unending hard work on his family farm. She also hints at a mystery: what is an Eternal?
In short order, Cioffi also introduces us to a bit more of Wang’s personality. Like any 12-year-old, he fights with his sister and his father. He knows his father wants him to work on the farm rather than daydream about learning magic and being “the richest man in all of China”. When he receives a dream visitation from the dragon illustrated on the cover—think ERAGON set in China—Wang decides his father can’t keep him on his peasant farm any more.
After Wang goes to the Elder of his village, a lemon-loving mystic, and asks the way to the Eternals’ home, he ends up more confused than ever. In typical martial-arts movie fashion the Elder speaks in cryptic messages before scolding Wang for seeking wealth and power for their own sake: “I cannot give you the information you seek. Your heart has already spoken. Go home and set your sights on learning
patience and virtue.”
Oddly, Wang’s younger sister helps him, because of her sweet nature—or perhaps she wants to teach the arrogant Wang about a girl’s worth. The true value of a person—character, kindness, integrity—is a common theme in this story and Cioffi brings it out quite well. She also subtly highlights the Confucian society of the time, where “respect your elders, especially males” is paramount, and the Asian ethos, in which the group is much more important than the individual. Wang, like many child heroes, rebels against his family and society to seek his own way—and learns a lesson. You have to give Wang credit for pursuing what he wants and for undertaking his perilous journey to the distant mountaintop to find the Eternals (This is what you want: you must follow through, he thinks). While Wang’s journey may seem reckless, he shows some guts and courage in leaving his family to pursue his dream.
There’s a lovely moment in which Wang’s father gently touches him and asks him to stay. It’s an understated and in-character way of showing that Wang’s father is concerned, for the first time, about his son leaving home—a deeply human emotion. Wang does not understand until much later—he is too excited about seeing the mystical temple of the Eternals materialize after his long perilous trek.
Wang’s impressions of the temple capture my own awe whenever I visit Asian temples such as Wat Pho, Senso-Ji, Sanjusangendo, and shrines in Taiwan, even though in keeping with a fable like this, the temple’s plain exterior belies its grand interior (representing, perhaps, the richness of the Eternals’ spiritual life). Although I have never met an Eternal Master, I imagine he (she?) would be just like the one in Walking Through Walls (many of the Buddhist rimbans and reverends I’ve met have senses of humor to package their lessons). The Eternal Master is the equivalent of a magical drill sergeant—not what Wang expected. Everything about the Eternals, from their strict regimen of simple food and hard work to their habit of appearing and disappearing, confounds Wang—although he begins to understand a bit more of the world when he meets his roommate Chen and hears of Chen’s quest to help his village and rescue his sister by becoming an Eternal. Chen’s story kindles compassion in Wang’s heart, but not enough to make him gain patience. With all the magic around him, Wang is hungry to become an Eternal himself, especially after he sees the more advanced students walking through walls after a midnight feast. Is it a dream? Is it a test? Wang decides he must learn to walk through walls.
Wang endures his peculiar education for a year before deciding to leave, despite his best friend Chen’s hope of having an ally in his quest. The Eternal Master teaches him the longed-for spell of walking through walls, even though he lectures Wang about not being pure of heart or worthy of the Eternals’ great power. Of course, Wang does learn the spell—and faces a test of his character once he returns home. During that test, I bit my nails and then screamed, “Don’t do it,” when Wang was about to make the wrong choice. Cioffi makes us care about Wang in spite of, or perhaps because, of his character flaws. In addition to the magic of the storytelling, the sense of wonder never lets up—enchanted snakes and other creatures follow Wang as he chooses his destiny, and we learn that the Eternal Master is even more extraordinary than he appears…
In addition to the story, Cioffi provides dragon lore, a brief, easily readable history (and cultural facts) of the Ming Dynasty during which the story is set, and activities and questions for young readers.
Kristin J. Johnson is a ghostwriter, novelist, screenwriter, poet, travel blogger, freelance writer and children's book author who has deep affection for Asia.
Wayne S. Walker
Title: Walking Through Walls
Author: Karen Cioffi
Illustrator: Aidana WillowRaven
Published by: 4RV Publishing, 2011
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Wayne S. Walker
Synopsis: If you could ask for one magical gift, what would it be? Wang lives in sixteenth century China with his father, who is a farmer, his mother, and his sister SuLin. While he works with his father in the fields, Wang does not want to be a farmer. He has been reading about the Eternals, a group of magicians, and wants to join them so that he can learn magic in order to become rich and famous. Many people don’t believe in the Eternals. He asks his father, the Mayor, Dr. Lee, and the village Elder where they can be located, but none of them can tell him how to find the Eternals. However, his sister had overheard her friend’s father speaking about them one day, so she tells him that they can be found in the Lao Mountains to the east, and he leaves the next day to go. It is a long and difficult journey, but Wang eventually arrives.
Although the Eternal Master is at first hesitant because Wang’s heart is not yet pure, he finally agrees to accept Wang as an apprentice and tells him to room with Chen who has come to learn magic to help find his sister who has been kidnapped by soldiers from a neighboring village. However, for nearly a year, all the apprentices do is chop wood and carry water. The only magic Wang sees is one night when he can’t sleep and spies on a party given by the Master where people arrive by walking through walls. After a time, Wang becomes disenchanted and decides to leave. He confronts the Master and asks for one magical gift in return for his labor. The Master says yes, and Wang says that he wants the ability to walk through walls. His secret aim is to go back home and use his ability to steal from the rich. Will he carry his plan out? Or will he learn better? What will happen to Wang?
Overall thoughts: Not only is Walking Through Walls, which is based on an old Chinese folktale, a well-written and fun story to read but it also illustrates many essential life lessons, such as the importance of hard work and perseverance, the need for honest character, and not always taking the easy way out. In addition, there is a lot of interesting description about medieval China which will serve to introduce youngsters to that culture. In the back there are reading comprehension questions and activities to help students get more from the experience of reading the book, plus additional material about daily living in China during the Ming Dynasty period (A.D. 1368-1644), including family life, foods, occupations, and dragons. Illustrator Aidana WillowRaven’s simple but realistic drawings are a nice bonus. Author Karen Cioffi loves how reading can bring children to new worlds and amazing adventures. She gets high praise from this reviewer for a wonderful tale that middle grade readers will enjoy.
*Chapter book, fantasy
*12-year-old boy as main character
*Rating: Both children and adults will love Walking Through Walls. For kids, it’s an exciting story that keeps them guessing to the end what’s going to happen and what decisions the main character is going to make. For adults? Well, we all love good writing, and Walking Through Walls is a perfect example of that! WillowRaven’s illustrations add class to the story. (The book is 62 pages–perfect for a summer read at summer school or at home!)
Short, short summary: (Note: Walking Through Walls is based on an ancient Chinese tale.) Wang is tired of working in his father’s wheat field. It is too much work and not enough money. He wants to get rich and be powerful. So, he decides he’s going to find the magical Eternals because if he becomes one, he can get what he wants. He goes off in spite of making his parents sad, and he finds where other boys are training. He is anxious to learn magic and become rich; but the Eternals are very smart, and training is actually very hard work. Wang is impatient and only focused on greed. How will the Eternals train him? Will he learn what is actually important? Will he become an Eternal?
This book is now available for preorder from RV4 Publishing. You can find out more information here: http://walkingthroughwalls-kcioffi.blogspot.com/
So, what do I do with this book?
Besides being a terrific book, the author has included a lot of material in the back of the book for teachers, parents, homeschoolers, and her readers!
She has questions, activities, and more information about the time period of The Ming Dynasty.
Here are a couple of her sample activities:
1. Write a list of five qualities that you think give a person value.
2. Draw a picture of a dragon.
3. Continue the book–write a sequel of what happens to Wang after the book’s end.
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