My latest read, Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, was recommended by several of my students (and one teacher). It takes place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Now, given that I live roughly 80 miles from the historic home, you’d think that I would have visited it more than twice in my life. You would be wrong. (Tickets are kind of expensive, and I hate driving.) If my memory serves me, the last time I toured the Biltmore Estate was on a field trip when I was in the third grade. (Yeah…it’s been a while.) Now that I’ve read Serafina and the Black Cloak, though, I may have to remedy that situation. It would be nice to rely on fresh memories when envisioning the events of this book.
The year is 1899. Serafina lives at the famous Biltmore Estate. The only person who knows of her existence is her pa, one of the home’s maintenance men, and no one realizes that the two of them secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore. Serafina’s pa cautions her to remain out of sight. Should her presence be discovered, it could mean the loss of her father’s job and their home.
When children begin disappearing from the estate, however, Serafina may need to make herself known. She witnesses a strange figure in a black cloak take a child, and she knows she must tell someone what she saw. But who would believe her? And can she confide in someone without losing the only home she’s ever known?
Serafina finds an unlikely ally in the form of Braeden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the Biltmore’s owner. He vows to keep her secret and somehow help her discover who–or what–is taking children from the house and grounds. The two look all over the estate for clues as to the identity of the mysterious figure in the black cloak, but children continue to disappear without a trace.
Serafina’s search for answers leads her to the forest surrounding the Biltmore. Her pa always taught her to fear the darkness of the forest, but Serafina feels oddly at home here. Yes, there are strange things happening in the forest, but it may just hold the key to the mystery of the black cloak…and Serafina’s past.
What will Serafina discover about herself during the course of her investigation? And can she and Braeden uncover the terrifying truth…before they are the next victims of the Man in the Black Cloak?
It’s easy for me to see why Serafina and the Black Cloak is so popular with my students. It’s an enthralling, multi-layered mystery–with some spooky supernatural elements–set in a fairly familiar place. Many of the kids requesting this book do so after they’ve visited the Biltmore Estate. This book might also make a good class read-aloud or novel study before a field trip to the estate.
Local connection aside, this book is a great fit for those who devour the works of Mary Downing Hahn. If you have upper elementary or middle grade readers looking for a good scare, point them to Serafina.
There is at least one more Serafina book to look forward to. Serafina and the Twisted Staff, which also takes place in and around the Biltmore Estate, will be released on August 6th. I’ll definitely need this sequel on hand when we start back to school in the fall.
To learn more about Serafina and the Black Cloak, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. While the video totally captures the mood of the book, I think it gives a little too much away. Proceed with caution.
If you’re intrigued by Serafina and the Black Cloak and would like to visit the home that inspired the book, click here. I have a feeling I’ll be paying the Biltmore Estate a visit myself in the not-too-distant future.