Review (Plus): “Serafina and the Black Cloak” by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak 9781484709016_5465eThe rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the vines weigh heavily upon the branches of the old trees, creating a canopy of darkness, withholding all light from the paths through the woods, there lies the rumors of creatures who walk the night. The rumors also say an abandoned village is hidden among the crawling vines, moss, lichens, trees; the villagers would disappear without a trace and without any hope of discovery–dead or alive.

Not too far down the road from this isolated village is the beautiful estate of the Edith and George Vanderbilt, Biltmore Estate. In the basement of this mansion, hidden for as long as she can remember, is Serafina, a young girl whose soul longs to walk amongst the beautiful and exquisite ladies above her. Her Pa, the mechanic of Biltmore Estates, has made a secret home for them in the boiler room. Until recently Serafina was content with her life in the basement being the C.R.C–Chief Rat Catcher–of Biltmore Estates, but one night, while out hunting for rats, she hears the cries of a young lady visitor calling for help. A man answers her calmly, stating he will not hurt the child. Serafina follows the sounds only to witness the girl being strangled by the black cloak and within a blink discovers the girl has disappeared. To her horror the man in the black cloak hears her and comes after her. Clawing, biting and kicking for her life, Serafina wins the first round, barely escaping the death of the black cloak, but knows the next encounter might not find her so lucky.

Serafina must tell her Pa about what she has witnessed, but he does not believe her. She finds courage to go upstairs to find someone who will listen to her and discovers Braeden Vanderbilt, a young man who has the ability to speak to animals, but doesn’t have any human friends. As Serafina knows in her heart she is something other than human, a fast bond is formed between these two and they know they must solve this mystery. Each night a child is taken; they are afraid they will be next.

Mystery, magic, murder… this coming of age book is a page turner from the very beginning.

In the store:

A collection of summer thrillers of mystery, magic and murder is a must. This has a wonderful cover to help tantalize your audience into the mystery found amongst the pages of this novel. A black cloak, a witches hat and some Halloween decor could help lead your customers to finding some novels for a summer reading of Murder, Magic and Mayhem!

In the classroom:

Serafina knows she is different and questions her Pa about hiding her in the basement–is he ashamed? Serafina questions her lineage, her boundaries and her relationships. These are common traits witnessed throughout the middle school years. Beatty should be commended for his ability for his reader to empathize with Serafina throughout the novel as Serafina learns to love what is bad and what is good within herself and those around her. This novel allows for comparison/contrast with Serafina’s self-doubts with those of your students. There are multiple scenes with Braeden, the Man in the Black Cloak, her Pa, as well as her internal struggles, for students to analyze Serafina’s growth. In history/social studies students must be able to incorporate narrative accounts into their analyses of individuals or events of historical import (Common Core State Standards Initiative.)

Serafina and the Black Cloak would be an excellent addition to a Coming of Age unit. Two poems to teach alongside this novel: There was a Child Went Forth by Walt Whitman and Hope by Emily Dickinson. This sets the stage for your students to write their own poetry. CCSS wants students to plan, revise, edit, rewrite and try a new approach to writing their thoughts (CCSS. ELA-Literacy.6-8.5.) A new approach to writing their thoughts–POETRY!

After reading these two poems have your student create a poem about their own coming of age. George Ella Lyon wrote a wonderful poem about where he is from. You can find the template here.  (Creative Commons Copyright) Now you can have your students write a poem for Serafina as well as themselves. You can hang these on the wall and have instant bulletin board artwork!

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (Disney-Hyperion | 9781484709016 | July 14, 2015)


America Grelinger

America Grelinger doesn’t mind if you call her Ms. America. It makes her head swell and she loves the title. America is a former English teacher and has a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, now retired to raise two crazy little boys who think the funniest thing on the planet is to burp and toot… which is why she reads. Because it’s cheaper than counseling. Amy and her husband live with those two crazy little boys in Derby, Kansas.