Some 10-year-olds and their moms discuss “Serafina and the Black Cloak”

Last month we had some friends over to discuss our burgeoning book club. The girls agreed on a name for the club — the Witty Kitties — and the moms tossed around a few ideas for our inaugural book. We decided on Robert Beatty’s “Serafina and the Black Cloak,” because the author is local and the girls have all visited the Biltmore Estate, where the novel takes place.

Here’s the dust-jacket synopsis:

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s vast and oppulent home, but she must take care to never be seen. "Serafina and the Black Cloak"None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember. She has learned to prowl through the darkened corridors at night, to sneak and hide, using the mansion’s hidden doors and secret passageways.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows the clues to follow. A terrifying man in a black cloak stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of 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, where she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must not only face her darkest enemy, but delve into the strange mystery of her own identity.

The “mother” contingent of our mother-daughter book club had given the girls a list of questions from the author’s “Serafina” discussion guide to consider while they read the book. The girls all diligently recorded their thoughts in their book club notebooks, which they brought with them to our meeting this week.

I was impressed with the consideration each of the girls put into the questions and with their insights about the story. They went pretty deep into some of the questions, particularly the one about whether or not it would be right to use the Black Cloak. I can’t really share their ideas about that without getting into major spoiler territory, but I can tell you the majority of them thought it would be a bad idea. My child said it might be justifiable if you really wanted a cupcake and had no other way to get one. I hope she was being facetious.

Regarding the less-revealing questions on their list, they found Serafina to be clever, brave and caring, and they agreed that the overall themes of the book were loyalty, family, trust and the internal struggle we all face between the darkness and the light. They all thought the Big Twist about the young heroine was “so, so cool,” and they can’t wait to learn more about her in the next installment of the series.

Poppy didn’t love the scary parts of “Serafina,” but she liked the book despite that. The other three girls in attendance loved it without reserve. Overall, the girls rated it 9 out of 10 kitty paws.

The book club girls award this title 9 kitty paws.

You can read the first chapter of “Serafina and the Black Cloak” at Robert-Beatty.com.