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Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak (2015)

serafinaSerafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty 

Do you know those children’s books, the ones that, while you are reading, somehow you are cognizant the entire time that the text in front of you was written for children? While I think there is a place for those types of children’s books, I’m always pleasantly surprised when I come across one that makes me forget I’m reading children’s literature.

This book is one of the latter. It is a children’s book that begs to be read by everyone. Great children’s literature transcends all ages. It captures your attention and holds you there, page after page, demanding your respect and taking you on new adventures.

Serafina is a wonderfully new, strong female character. She is brave and a bit lonely, readers will readily see pieces of themselves in her despite the fact that she is also quite unusual. This novel is set in 1899 at the Biltmore Estate, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Serafina lives secretly in the basement of the estate with her father, the estate’s maintenance worker, while upstairs the wealthy Vanderbilt family entertains guests and otherwise carry on with their own lives.

Very early on in the book something quite shocking happens, and the action, mystery, and suspense continue to build from there. As an elementary school librarian, I wondered about the appropriate age to recommend this book to. I think it is most appropriate for 4th grade and up.

After finishing the book, I visited the website for the Biltmore Estate and was stunned by the photographs. Somehow, while reading this story, my imagination failed to create the grandeur that is the Biltmore. I’m now more intrigued by the place.

I think it is possible that Serafina’s story could continue. She has been on my mind in the days that have passed since I finished reading this book. I’m wondering where she will go from here.

-Erin

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Review: The Night Gardener (2014)

night gardenerThe Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier is a perfectly creepy story. In the author’s note at the end of the book Auxier credits inspiration from Ray Bradbury and Washington Irving, and then goes on to say that The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett also weaves it’s way into this work. Well, who can resist the thought of a spooky Secret Garden?

The story follows Molly and Kip, two young Irish orphans looking to find work as servants, as they travel to the mysterious Windsor Estate which is hidden away deep in “the sourwoods.”  Along the way they meet an old traveling storyteller named Hester who helps them find their way once Molly promises to share stories of the enigmatic estate with her. When they arrive at the Windsor house they soon realize that things are not as they appear. Entwined within the house is a gigantic, sinister tree. The inhabitants of the house appear pale and sickly, and it isn’t long before Molly begins to encounter the Night Gardener. Then there’s also the matter of the locked door at the top of the stairs…

School ends next week, but I can’t wait to book talk this one with the kids in the library next year! This is a thrilling read with an element of mystery that propels the story forward. It is the perfect amount of creepy for elementary school kids. I would recommend it for readers ages 8-13 who appreciate a bit of suspense and dark imagery. I loved the additional themes within the story of storytelling (what makes it different from lying?), and greed. -Erin