Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty is a dark Middle Grade mystery most suited to fifth grade and up. The setting is the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, 1899 where we are introduced to a very interesting girl named Serafina.
Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.
But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.
Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.
- This story holds the reader’s attention because there are so many things you want to know as you read: why does Serafina live the way she does? why doesn’t her pa want anyone to know about her? who is the man in the black cloak?
- I enjoyed the friendship that grows between Serafina and Braeden. Serafina is a brave girl but she is lonely. Braeden is a kind, generous boy who needs a friend who doesn’t care about his money. In each other, they find true friendship.
- [spoiler] As a Christian, I couldn’t help but notice that the Black Cloak tempted Serafina with “imagine understanding and controlling everything around you…” and “you will become all-knowing, all-powerful…” The Black Cloak was a walking metaphor for the sin, and not just any sin, but the temptation to be like God. It was a very Garden-of-Eden moment that Serafina must experience but ultimately overcome.
- The story is spooky. Middle-grade fiction seems to be going through a dark/spooky/horror phase. I picked this book up because it was nominated for a state award. If your child is sensitive or prone to nightmares, this might not be the book for them. Or at least, not right before bedtime.
- Like many adventure stories, Serafina does things against her father’s wishes.
I thought the redemptive ending made the book well worth reading. After we learned more about Serafina, who she was and where she came from, it made me interested to read more in the series.
- When did you first realize that Serafina was an unusual girl?
- After you found out about Serafina’s mother, were there clues in the book that gave you hints as to Serafina’s origin?
- Which character was your favorite in the book? Why?
- Did you find the book scary? If so, what parts?
- What did you think of the Man in the Black Cloak? What would you do if you met someone like him?