Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg

Living in abject poverty in Haiti, 11 year old Serafina makes a secret promise to her deceased little brother Pierre that she will someday go to school and become a healer so that she can save little babies like him.  She wants to be just like her hero Antoinette Solaine, the healer who tried to save Pierre.

The only problem is that Serafina has never been to school and her parents can't afford to buy the necessary uniform to send her.  And it isn't just the money.  Her family needs Serafina's help to get water for them several times a day, to collect wood and charcoal so they can cook, to sweep their makeshift home, and anything else a young girl can do for her parents and grandmother, Gogo.

But Serafina comes up with a plan and presents it to her father on their way to Port-au-Prince for flag days events.  He tells her to talk to her mother about her plan, but before that can happen, the rainy season arrives and a flood sweeps Serafina's home, village and even some neighbors away.

Moving away to higher ground, they slowly rebuilt their home using pieces of metal and wood that Serafina's father finds and brings home.  And he even brings seeds for Serafina and Gogo to plant herbs and vegetables to sell in the market and make money for a school uniform.

And finally the day comes when Serafina gets her new school uniform and begins school.   But then the earthquake of 2010 happens and everything changes again.  It looks like Serafina's dream of becoming a doctor may have become a victim of this terrible disaster.

Serafina's Promise is a lovely story written in free verse, which seems so right for a girl who speaks in very melodic sounding Haitian Creole.  In fact, the novel is sprinkled with words and phrases in Haitian Creole to give the reader some sense of what it sounds like, along with a pronunciation guide and glossary.  And perhaps because I have heard Haitian Creole all my life, I didn't have a problem placing the geographic location of the novel as many seem to have had.  The time of the novel just as confusing to me as it was to others, until that terrible earthquake hit.  Both of these are drawbacks to an otherwise lovely story.

But of course Serafina's Promise isn't about current events, but how those events beyond our control bring out the true person that we are.  And for Serafina, just 11, that is a strong, generous, loving, caring person.  Since the story is told by Serafina, we are privileged to know what exactly what she is thinking at all times.  Though poverty surrounds Serafina and her family, she never slips into self-pity.  Instead, she shows us what a loving family she has, how they struggle on despite despair, disaster and disappointment.

Warm and uplifting, you will root for Serafina from start to finish.  Serafina's Promise is an inspiring  novel not to be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend.


  1. Hello Alex, you always find THE most interesting books. I had not heard about Serafina’s promise before visiting you today.
    I called in to wish you a very happy holiday time. Barbara.

  2. Where in Haiti is it set? PAP? I spent two weeks in Haiti this summer, and while my creole is terrible, I miss Haiti and the people I worked with. Definitely reading this asap

    1. Yes, it is in PAP. It is a wonderful story and really shows what life can be like for some people in Haiti. I loved Serafina's Promise and hope you do to.


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