Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

serafina and the black cloak

 

With all the hype leading up to the release of Serafina and the Black Cloak, it’s pretty clear that Disney’s looking to discover and be a part of the next big book franchise. I think they may just have found it.

Well-written and intriguing, Serafina and the Black Cloak feels like something wonderfully familiar and new all at once. In the vein of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, Beatty has written the beginning of a great hero journey series for middle schoolers, but with one major difference… The hero is a girl. And, not just any girl, but a truly unique one for reasons that I won’t tell because it’ll spoil parts of the book for you. Throughout the book, Serafina goes through the process of questioning who she is and what her purpose is, and she comes out on the other side of it as an admirable and strong young woman. Set during the time of the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore House in the mountains of North Carolina, historical and factual details are woven into the narrative seamlessly, which creates a fascinating delve into historical fiction for middle grades readers. The supporting cast of characters are remarkable, too; they include the Vanderbilt family, a wide variety of people who have come to stay as guests in their home, and the large staff that kept a place like the Biltmore House running.

There’s a battle between good and evil here, and good wins out just as we’d expect in an MG title, but it’s done in a fresh way and comes across as something different. The book never really fully delves into witchcraft (portrayed as evil) or paranormal stuff, but there are touches of it that make the story mysterious and a little spooky. When the evil force driving the antagonist is finally defeated, it’s with something clearly good, which makes me comfortable with recommending this for school reading for grades 4 and up.

Serafina and the Black Cloak comes out on July 14th, and it should be everywhere when it comes out… But, click here to see it on Amazon (where it’s already listed as a #1 New Release) if you’d like to preorder it, or check with your favorite local bookseller to order it.

The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger

Summary from Goodreads:

Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There’s the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who’s always kind and calm; and then there’s Canaan, the ringleader and Nola’s best-best friend. Nola can’t imagine her life without the Swift boys — they’ll always be like this, always be friends.

But then everything changes overnight.

When the Swifts’ daddy leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the boys, and all Nola can do is watch. Kevin stops talking and Brian is never around. Even Canaan is drifting away from Nola — hanging out with the neighborhood bullies instead of her.

Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were — the way they’ve always been. She tries to pull the boys back to her, only the harder she pulls, the further away they seem. But it’s not just the Swifts whose family is changing, so is Nola’s, and she needs her best friends now more than ever. Can Nola and the Swift boys survive this summer with their friendships intact, or has everything fallen apart for good?

Nola’s struggle to save her friends, her unwavering hope, and her belief in the power of friendship make Kody Keplinger’s middle-grade debut a poignant story of loss and redemption.

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This is a really sweet and beautifully written middle grades novel. The only thing keeping me from giving it five stars is that I felt like the ending, while hopeful and complete enough to resolve the book, didn’t quite do Lola and Canaan justice. They were such great characters – there should have been more resolution, both in their relationship and in Canaan’s family life.

I definitely recommend The Swift Boys and Me to kids in the 4th-6th grade range! The adorable cover will no doubt appeal to lots of young girls, but the messages and themes are perfect for boys, too. For my fellow teachers, this would make a great summer reading choice for students coming into 5th and 6th grades!

Find it here on Amazon or at your preferred bookseller. Enjoy!