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BOOK REVIEW: 'Serafina's Promise' by Ann E. Burg

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 10/16/2013, 3 p.m.
Realizing a dream might mean going through nightmares first.

c.2013, Scholastic

$16.99/$18.99 Canada

304 pages

You’ve got a dream.

Every kid does, but yours is special. You want to be a football player someday, or a star onstage. Maybe your dream is to visit Europe, drive a hot car, be an astronaut, buy your own house, ride a horse, write a book, or help others.

You’ve got a dream, and you’ll do anything to see it happen. But in the new book “Serafina’s Promise” by Ann E. Burg, realizing a dream might mean going through nightmares first.

Eleven-year-old Serafina had a secret. It was a good secret, too. It made her think while she carried water four times a day, took care of Manman, emptied chamber pots, swept the floor, gathered wood, and piled charcoal. Her secret kept her mind busy while her hands were working, too.

Her secret was this: Serafina wanted to be a doctor someday. She’d wanted it ever since Antoinette Solaine took care of Serafina’s baby brother, Pierre – and though Pierre had died, Serafina saw that being a healer was something special. Even Papa said she had a “gift” for it.

But she knew that first, she needed an education and that was very expensive. Manman said that there was no money for a uniform or shoes and besides, she needed Serafina at home. Gogo reminded Serafina that chores needed doing. Manman’s belly was round with another baby, and there were things she couldn’t do.

So Serafina spent her days carrying water and doing chores, and turning her secret over in her head. Gogo always said that Grandpè thought an education was important. Serafina knew that she needed to speak to Papa, who would talk to Manman about school. A trip to the city for Flag Day seemed like a good chance to ask.

And ask she did, on their way to Port-au-Prince. Papa listened – Serafina loved that about him – and though she wasn’t sure what would happen, he smiled when she promised to find ways to earn her own money for school. It would take the rest of the summer, but once the new baby arrived, Serafina was sure she’d have time to do it.

And then the ground began to shake…

Page through “Serafina’s Promise,” and you might think there’s not much here. Indeed, the pages are largely empty and the words are spare, but don’t let that fool you: young readers won’t be able to help but be affected by this powerful little tale.

In a matter-of-fact manner befitting her optimistic young character, author Ann E. Burg portrays Haiti’s poverty and problems without making the story one of weepy drama. That lack actually gives this book more believability, and it made me love the pluckiness of Serafina even more. In the end, those bare pages packed a huge punch and I think kids will like that a lot.

Meant for children ages 10-14, I think a slightly younger “good reader” will find this a nice challenge. For her, or for any child who wants a quick, enjoyable novel, “Serafina’s Promise” will be a dream.