Serafina's Promise

Serafina's Promise

5.0 4
by Ann E. Burg

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NAACP Image Award winner and ALA Notable, this luminous, celebrated novel in verse is now in paperback.

Serafina made a secret promise to go to school and learn to read so she can become a doctor with her best friend, Julie Marie.

But following her dream isn't easy-
endless chores, little money and stomach-rumbling hunger all test her resolve.

When an


NAACP Image Award winner and ALA Notable, this luminous, celebrated novel in verse is now in paperback.

Serafina made a secret promise to go to school and learn to read so she can become a doctor with her best friend, Julie Marie.

But following her dream isn't easy-
endless chores, little money and stomach-rumbling hunger all test her resolve.

When an earthquake hits and separates Serafina from friends and family,
she encounters her biggest test of all.

Serafina made a secret promise.
Will she survive to keep it?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Burg follows her debut, All the Broken Pieces, with this quieter yet compelling novel in verse about sensitive, ambitious 11-year-old Serafina, who lives in poverty in rural Haiti with her cheerful, compassionate father; hardworking, tightlipped mother; and wise grandmother, Gogo. Mourning the recent death of her baby brother while anxiously awaiting the birth of a new sibling, Serafina tries to please and help her family. Inspired by the female doctor who tended to her brother, she harbors a longing to attend school: “In the quiet,/ my own heart beat/ its unspoken secret./ I promised myself/ that one day/ I would be a real doctor.” Burg’s understated free verse—liberally sprinkled with Haitian Creole phrases—gains power as Serafina’s family is displaced by a flood, which is cruelly followed by the 2010 earthquake; the author skillfully weaves in information about the country’s traumatic history in a way that makes it personally significant to Serafina. While Serafina’s circumstances differ dramatically from those of most readers, her conflicting emotions about family dynamics and friendship, and her struggle to assert her aspirations, will resonate with many. Ages 10–14. Agent: Jodi Reamer, Writers House. (Oct.)
VOYA - Courtney M. Krieger
Serafina has a dream. She wants to become a doctor to help people. In order to make her dream come true, she must attend school. In the small, poor Haitian village where she lives, education is a luxury. Like most children, Serafina's family is poor, and it needs her to help work to sustain life. Although school is expensive and it requires time away from her family, Serafina refuses to give up on her dream. First, she must receive the blessing of her Papa to gain courage to seek approval from her Manman. Through hard work and determination, Sarafina learns the importance of overcoming obstacles to obtain her goals. Burg's novel provides the reader with a glimpse into the realistic lives of Haitian children. While many American children are used to education being a right, this novel shows that, for many, it is a privilege. Through the struggles of the main character, readers learn the importance of determination and perseverance. Written in verse, character development and plot lack depth. As a result, advanced readers who enjoy multifaceted characters might find this novel unappealing since it only provides brief information through snippets of dialogue. The author does, however, effectively convey the main points of the story quickly and sufficiently, which might appeal to reluctant readers. The language is simplistic and direct while the plot moves quickly. Because of its overarching themes (poverty, family, and friendship) and diverse setting, it would be a helpful addition to any classroom or library. Reviewer: Courtney M. Krieger
Children's Literature - Carlee Hallman
This is written in free verse. The depressing beginning has Sarafina, who is eleven years old and lives in Haiti, carrying water and gathering wood. When her baby brother dies before the lady doctor arrives, Sarafina decides to become a doctor and wants to go to school. After a flood carries off their house, the family builds a new home on higher ground. Sarafina and Gogo, her grandmother, plant a garden and save money by selling herbs and vegetables so Sarafina can go to school. Papa says that love finds a way. After her mother has a new baby named Gregory, Sarafina asks her if she can attend school. In school Sarafina learns French instead of Creole. When Gregory does not thrive and has a rash, Sarafina heads to the city for the lady doctor. Then an earthquake demolishes the city. The lady doctor finds Sarafina and one of her girlfriends and takes them to the clinic. The doctor says Sarafina can later be her helper. Sarafina leaves to search for her father. She finds him pinned under debris from the store in which he worked. She gets people to dig him out and saves his life. He and Sarafina take her friend home with them. There is a Creole pronunciation guide and a glossary of foreign phrases at the back. In the midst of natural disasters and poverty, an unschooled eleven-year-old girl dreams of becoming a doctor. Reviewer: Carlee Hallman
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-08-15
Eleven-year-old Serafina has a dream: to go to school and become a doctor. Yet her life outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is filled with urgent chores and responsibilities. A natural healer, Serafina has already witnessed the loss of baby brother Pierre to disease and hunger, wishing she could have done more to save him. Now Manman is about to have another baby. How will her family ever do without Serafina's help or afford her school uniform? Burg uses gentle language and graceful imagery to create the characters that make up Serafina's loving family--Papa, Manman and Gogo, her wise grandmother. (Sadly, Granpè was taken away long ago by the Tonton Macoutes.) Told in first-person verse appealing to both reluctant and passionate readers, the novel is woven with Haitian history, culture and Creole phrases. Readers will root for this likable heroine as she overcomes obstacles--poverty, family obligations, the catastrophic 2010 earthquake--in her effort to emulate her mentor, Antoinette Solaine, the physician who tried to save Pierre. The spirit of the text's celebration of the power of determination, family, friendship and love is ably captured in Sean Quall's delightful cover art. Lilting, lyrical and full of hope. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher

Awards and Nominations for SERAFINA'S PROMISE:

Kirkus Best Book of the Year
Parents' Choice Gold Award winner
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
New York Public Library 100 Books for Giving and Sharing
The Herald-Sun Wilde Award for Longer books, Middle grade novel
Cybils Awards Finalists, Middle Grade Fiction
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Literary Work-Youth/Teens nominee
ALA Notable Book
ALA Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
Michigan Great Lakes Great Books Award nominee
Bank Street College Children's Book Committee - Best Children's Books of the Year
Americas Award, Commended Title

School Library Journal
★ 11/01/2013
Gr 4–6—Serafina is just 11, but she fetches water from a stream every day and helps her family add to the coin jar by bundling the herbs her mother and grandmother sell. She has witnessed the death of her infant brother, wishing and wondering if she could have done more to save him. Told in verse, this first-person account of a young girl's life in Haiti is filled with sadness and the harsh realities of poverty, yet the poetic narrative sings of hope and promise. Inspired by Antoinette Solaine, the doctor who attends to her dying brother, Serafina vows to find a way to go to school and one day help others. But who would bring the water and help Manman with the chores? And the few coins in the jar do not come close to the cost of a school uniform and shoes. The story unfolds as the family, already victims of political unrest, now faces natural disasters and separation. Serafina, always the healer, rises above obstacles and hardship, keeping her dreams and her promises close at hand. A powerful and uplifting story of family and sacrifice, perfect even for reluctant readers.—Cheryl Ashton, Amherst Public Library, OH

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)
HL590L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Ann Burg's debut novel, ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, was named a Jefferson Cup award winner and an IRA Notable Book for a Global Society, among its many honors. Burg worked as an English teacher for ten years before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Rhinebeck, New York, with her family. You can visit her online at

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Serafina's Promise 5 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 4 reviews.
MI_Reader More than 1 year ago
It takes a special reader to enjoy a novel in verse, one who loves poetry and the lyrical sound of the language of the story. Serafina's Promise has an underlying strength that helps capture the strength and spirit of Serafina herself. Her sense of family and country along with following her dreams makes her a true heroine, even before the other disasters she must face, including flooding and earthquakes and death. How she perseveres living in the poverty and sorrow she faces is truly remarkable. It is a beautiful book. I received a copy of this book from the publisher as a judge for the Cybils. All opinions are my own.
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