Asheville is one of my favorites cities in the American South. It kind of defies the odds, and is unlike anywhere else here in the South. Its mix of worldliness and mountain charm renders it quaint, hippy, metropolitan, and rustic…all rolled into one. It’s truly incredible, really, how Asheville pulls it off.
The Biltmore Estate is one of the most well-known destinations in Asheville, a place we have visited in the past, and when Disney-Hyperion first released the book trailer for Serafina and the Black Cloak, it spread like lightning across Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina (well, across the whole country, to be honest!). Like many others, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.
Then it was published, and I asked M, 7 years old at the time, if she wanted to read it. NOPE! No interest whatsoever. This kid is not swayed by marketing efforts at all…a trait I admire, until it conflicts with my own opinion. Ha!
So, I held off. Until last week, when M asked the children’s librarian at our public library for a book recommendation. She was in a reading rut, and was looking for a new mystery or fantasy book, something that would appeal to a kid who loves stories like Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series. A book with a strong female lead, and not too scary. The librarian led her too…Serafina and the Black Cloak. And her eyes lit up at the cover! Hooray!!
This is why I stopped suggesting books to her. Coming from mom, it never works.
So we checked it out, and both of us read it independently of the other.
Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak
Author: Robert Beatty
Genre: Middle-grade, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction
Serafina secretly lives in the basement of the Biltmore Estate with her Pa, a maintenance worker for the Vanderbilt family. She roams at night, although she always listens to her Pa’s warning to never venture into the forest that surrounds the estate, and to never be seen by the other staff or the Vanderbilt family and their guests.
Then one night, children start disappearing, and Serafina is the only one who has seen the culprit, a man in a black cloak. She sets out to uncover the identity of the Man in the Black Cloak, with the help of a few friends along the way.
In the beginning, I was quite annoyed with Serafina’s Pa, and couldn’t understand why he treated her the way he did. His perspective and outlook on things starts to make more sense when you learn the back story of their family and why they live in the basement. I also had to put aside a pretty large dose of skepticism at the idea that Serafina could live for years in the basement of the estate and not once, even as a baby and toddler, ever be seen by other workers.
Serafina and Braeden’s relationship forms a large part of the story, and Braeden is interesting in his own right, but it is Serafina that truly makes this story sing. She is curious and solitary, charming and awkward, eccentric for a child so young. Both her and Braeden are unique in their own way, and I am happy to see an author of children’s literature explore and honor the uniqueness of children, and how that uniqueness is what makes a person special.
It’s a fast read, even for kids (or at least for my kid). Serafina and the Black Cloak is aimed towards 8-12 year olds, but I definitely enjoyed it as much as my 8-year-old did. M and I both loved Serafina, and I’ll leave you to guess which one of us figured out her secret first. It would make an excellent selection for a mother/daughter or parent/child book club. Having been to the Biltmore, and frequently hike in the mountains and forests surrounding Asheville, I may never look at those hiking trips the same way again.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars