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Serafina and the Black Cloak Paperback – June 14, 2016
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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From School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—A mystery set at a sumptuous estate, featuring a courageous female protagonist entangled in a hair-raising adventure. It is 1899 and 12-year-old Serafina lives with her Pa in the basement of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Pa had come to Asheville years ago to help with construction and stayed on as a fixer of all things mechanical in the 250-room mansion. For reasons unknown to Serafina, they must keep their nightly lodgings in the basement a secret as well as the existence of Serafina herself. She has developed catlike skills in exploring the vast Biltmore estate and enjoys sneaking through heating vents and other small spaces in order to eavesdrop on staff and inhabitants. Her quiet existence is shattered when she witnesses a strange man dragging a tearful young girl down into the bowels of the vast home. The man is wearing a large black cloak and reassures the young girl that everything is okay. Suddenly, the captive struggles to get away from the man and his cloak appears to come alive. It wraps itself around the terrified child as she calls out for help. Serafina is frozen with fear and before she can react, the girl has vanished. Serafina escapes, thanks to her agility, and discovers the next day that a visitor of the Vanderbilts by the name of Clara has disappeared during the night. More children disappear and it becomes increasingly obvious that Serafina's new best friend, Braeden, is the man in the black cloak's newest target. The story drips with suspense, wrapping readers into the narrative just as easily as the man in the black cloak binds his young victims. Serafina's friendship with Braeden is heartfelt and believable. The ending is tied up too neatly, but that's a minor quibble; most horror and mystery fans will enjoy this book. VERDICT A creepy, suspenseful read that's not quite as dark as the works of Neil Gaiman or Adam Gidwitz.—Julie Shatterly, W. A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Winner of the 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize for representing "the best in Southern Literature."
- Winner of the 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize for representing "the best in Southern literature."
- #1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
- 2016 OKRA Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA)
- #1 Middle Grade novel of 2015 on Goodreads.com
- #5 Readers Choice Award for "Best Debut Novel of 2015"
- Finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, which is given to books that best exemplify the spirit of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis
- Recommended by A Mighty Girl, Learning Ally, School Library Journal, and many other organizations.
- Awarded "Best of 2015" by Powell's Bookstore
- Selected for "Battle of the Books" in many states.
Top customer reviews
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I came to young adult books like many people after reading to my kids and encouraging them to read over the years. (They are now 13, 17 and 20). All of us loved mysteries and scary stories, but for mom, the historical fiction part was a big plus. I never understood why people wouldn’t like this genre, unless the storytelling is bad. Serafina is a great read but also provides an infusion of knowledge about life at the Biltmore Estate circa 1899. I have a friend who argues, “but I would just rather read the history book.” I say with historical fiction that you and your kids are officially in the know about a new topic, enriched and smarter for it. It can be a starting point for further books and film and even a field trip. (In this case the Biltmore Estate.)
Serafina the heroine is a teen-age girl struggling with her identity and place in the world. Her journey reflects universal feelings of angst we all have – in middle school and beyond. They are timeless struggles. The villain is the wonderfully bone-chilling and “Neil Gaimanish” man in the black cloak. It is definitely creepy, but awesomely creepy. Serafina’s character was so darn likeable and tenacious that it added a dimension of warmth and light that diffused the scary part sufficiently.
I loved it for several other reasons: for starters, Beatty’s descriptive language. He creates metaphor, simile and tone that are uncomplicated but spot on for poignancy. That is always my favorite part of a book – when a writer can do that well. I also found that even though Serafina has a sprinkling of Gaiman/Snicket/Dahl, Beatty has created something incredibly unique in the Internet Age: a tale that feels different and all its own.
Why Downton Abbey? Because that series could essentially have been filmed at the Biltmore Estate. Serafina doesn’t just live in the basement with her Pa. She’s a fearless explorer that goes upstairs and beyond for a spectator view of the lavish Vanderbilt/Downton Abbey life. I loved the contrast in setting between the drama unfolding in the mechanical boiler-room basement and the posh tapestry-walled grand upstairs.
Since Disney published this book, and it is inherently movie worthy with its setting and characters – I predict filming to follow soon. Hope so. Will be unique experience for my kids and me to have been with this special book since the beginning.
Several wonderful themes emerge along the way for children readers: that a job done well, however mean, gives one a chance to achieve pride in oneself and satisfaction of knowing that it also may benefit others, 2) that one's true parents are those who love and care for us as children, not only those who we share genes with, 3) that being different is not bad at all, and one's difference can actually be one's true strength and gifts to the world, 4) that true character and goodness are not defined so much by victory or defeat against a challenge as it is by our courage to rise to meet it, no matter how daunting it may seem.
This book is filled with themes and values that I want my child to be filled with, but they are shared in a most delightfully charming way, through the eyes and words of a child, learning these and many other values for herself, as a truly delightful and magical story unfolds in a way which feels like being read to by a parent or librarian, with warmth, the occasional gasp, a sense of knuckle-tightening trepidation, and a soul-warming and deeply satisfying resolution. I intend to read it again right away,with and to my own child, to share it together with love, warmth, and intimacy the like that shared in between the characters in the book. And I'll privately enjoy knowing that I'm also secretively sharing a few lessons of American history, folklore, and social ethics and moral values so subtly that my child will likely not ever even realize that education is even one of my motives for sharing the book with him.
I am a most ardent fan of this author and book. It should be considered a must-read to be shared between parents and children of all families, whether they share genetic heritage or not... perhaps especially appropriate for non-traditional or single-parent families where love is the primary motivation which binds one to another, not a wedding vow or ring. I just can't adequately express how thankful I am to have found this book to be able to share with my child, but I've tried and I hope many other parents also find it and share it with theirs, as well.
And if you are a young person reading this review, ignore everything I just typed about a parent liking it so much as a teaching tool. I promise you'll never notice it other than it being a cracking- good story with moral courage and daring-do facing against true evil and daunting strength, with love and loyalty to friends being what matters most, in the end.