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Serafina's Promise

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A luminous novel in verse from the author of the Jefferson Cup award winner ALL THE BROKEN PIECES.


Serafina has
a secret dream.

She wants to go to school
and become a doctor
with her best friend, Julie Marie.

But in their rural village
outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti,
many obstacles
stand in Serafina’s way--
little money,
never-ending chores,
and Manman’s worries.

More powerful even
than all of these
are the heavy rains
and the shaking earth
that test Serafina’s resolve
in ways she never dreamed.

At once heartbreaking and hopeful,
this exquisitely crafted story
will leave a lasting impression
on your heart.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published September 24, 2013

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Ann E. Burg

14 books117 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 335 reviews
Profile Image for Barbara.
12.9k reviews265 followers
October 6, 2013
Although her daily life is filled with work, and sometimes she is hungry, Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor and healing others in Haiti. Although she learns about herbal medicine from her beloved grandmother, Gogo, she also wants to learn about medicine that is dispensed from pill bottles. The death of her younger brother Pierre spurs on this ambition, which she shares with her best friend Julie Marie. After working hard to convince her parents to allow her to go to school, Serafina meets new friends and learns how to read and write, but she also dislikes having to learn French and finds her classes irrelevant. When her new baby brother, Gregory, grows ill, she feels guilty for the added expense of school. This novel in verse captures perfectly the ambitions of a girl who longs for more than a life of hard labor while struggling with familial and societal expectations. The affection she has for Banza, the stray cat that she feeds on the sly, and her determination against almost insurmountable odds are admirable and will help readers easily connect to her. Even when things seem to be going right for Serafina, natural disasters, including floods and earthquakes, wreak havoc on her life. I enjoyed hearing the stories about her grandfather and his support of literacy for his own family members.
Profile Image for The Styling Librarian.
2,170 reviews194 followers
June 21, 2014
I loved this book. Loved x 50. I highly recommend sharing this book with however many children you can… it is simply beautiful. Not only do you have a beautiful novel in verse but such a powerful message you won’t believe it…


Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg - Realistic Fiction/Survival/Adventure – 4th grade (careful with sensitive children) and up – This novel in verse packs a whallop. Set in Haiti you follow a little girl named Serafina who’s dream is to become a doctor. I loved how she came to the realization that sometimes you must be a little greedy to fulfill a dream… Beautiful. Appreciated the family, community, and wow to the experience of natural disasters with not only flooding wiping out Serafina’s life but also an earthquake that makes everything turn to turmoil. Absolutely loved every minute. Ann E. Burg is brilliant at selecting those just so perfect words, phrases, and pulls the reader through every minute. Can’t wait to share this with my Year 4 teaching team since it fits with their unit of inquiry on natural disasters, earth, etc.
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,946 reviews107 followers
December 17, 2013
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.

This review was originally posted at Randomly Reading
1,392 reviews3 followers
July 2, 2013
Ann E. Burg is one of my favorite authors of verse novels and this one didn't disappoint--other than I just didn't want it to end. I became so invested in Serafina that I still want to know if she found the rest of the family, if Gregory lived, if she and Julie Marie got to school, if they became doctors. And the fact that a verse novel of less than 300 pages impacted me this much tells you something about the quality of the book and the writing.
Profile Image for Kimberly Patton.
Author 3 books10 followers
October 21, 2021
Gorgeous. I loved the main character, the exciting turn of events, the hopeful ending, the Creole and French languages, the honesty, poetic phrases and lovely wording. It was one of the best novels in verse I’ve read and I would like to read more from this author!
Profile Image for Samantha.
4,985 reviews59 followers
December 11, 2013
A moving novel in verse that centers on an 11 year old girl named Serafina and her family and neighbors living in a rural village in Haiti. Description of her daily life and the chores she's responsible for dominate part 1 of the book, but readers learn that Serafina dreams of attending school. Her ultimate goal is to become a doctor which she was influenced to pursue after living through the trauma of losing a loved one; her baby brother passed away before the start of the book and her mother is heavily pregnant with another child.

When a flood causes the family to move, Serafina and her grandmother work together to cultivate a garden and make some extra money selling produce and herbs at market. The extra money is used to fund Serafina's dream of attending school. Though school doesn't turn out to be all that Serafina dreamed it would be, she works hard. When her infant brother becomes ill she worries that funding her attendance at school is causing too great a burden on her family. She attempts to retrieve her doctor-idol, but an earthquake causes death and destruction for miles around. As luck would have it, Serafina does find the doctor who encourages her to continue her schooling and she reunites with her family.

This book excels at setting and character. With a novel in verse the characters are largely realized through their actions and the words and scenes chosen to display the cast are very well done. Recommended for grades 5-8.
Profile Image for Melinda.
305 reviews6 followers
January 25, 2017
One of my favorite books. The story of Serafina's Promise is a wonderfully written story. Burg writes in verse and makes it easy for struggling readers to understand. Serafina is a young girl who has a dream of becoming a doctor. Her father is a wonderful provider and does his best to help Serafina connect with Manman her mom. Gogo keeps Serafina thinking and letting her know that Manman was like her one time.
Serafina is an easy character to connect with. You want to see all of Serafina's dream. She is willing to do all she can to make it happen. The setting is in Haiti and if you know the events that happened in Haiti then you will realize that it will be placed into the story.
Profile Image for Lesley.
2,336 reviews
January 24, 2016
This is a story of the life of a young girl in Haiti, she wants to be a doctor, she wants to go to school but she lives in the country and must help her family with chores and work the garden. Sometimes she gives up portions of her food so her pregnant mother will have enough to eat. Then there is some changes to her life but then the earthquake happens. She still has hope through it all!
This is quite a story that I believe our middle grade students in America should read. It shows how lucky they are to get an education and the food we have we tend to take for granted!
Profile Image for Karin.
1,861 reviews25 followers
July 12, 2013
Another novel in verse from (award-winning) author of 'All the Broken Pieces' (which I thought was really good).
This one follows Serafina, an 11yo in Haiti who dreams of being a doctor though her family can't afford to send her to school and her mother is expecting a new baby after her previous baby died.
So much sadness, but so much hope...and then a unexpected tragic event ups the ante and brings the suspense too. Kinda loved it.
Profile Image for Brittany.
725 reviews25 followers
November 12, 2016
"The only unbreakable home is one made from love."

What a poignant and moving little story. It's a fast, verse read that's full of hope and terrifying realities of a child growing up in extreme poverty in a third world country. Moving and full of great themes for young people to develop cultural awareness and empathy.
Profile Image for Bookslut.
611 reviews
October 12, 2017
I first became aware of this book when I saw Gillie's book report. 'I relate to the character because her mom had a boy baby that died and then had another baby, and so did my mom'. A couple months later, she recommended the book to me. When I was a few pages in, she asked me how I liked it. I must've hesitated when I said I did, because she became really alert. 'What, you don't really like it?'' she asked. 'No, I do. It's just really sad. There's a lot in there about losing her brother. It's like, a main part.' Mmm-hmm, she shrugged. 'Well,' I tried again, 'it's very sad'. 'Yeah. That's why I thought you would like it. I thought you'd understand, how they felt.' 'Right, I do, and I do like it because of that. But I feel bad that you read this. I feel bad that you understand, that you relate to this book'. And I do.

She kind of skipped off after that, and I don't think anything meaningful has been said about it since. It's kind of a heavy book for a little kid, especially my kid, but it is very good. I guess I question assigning a book with so much gravity to a bunch of suburban third graders, but I do think it was good for Gillie. At the end of the Battle of the Books, this was one of two books that seemed to make an impression on her. She loved it, and read it at least four times. Maybe even a dozen. While I wish it had been written by a Haitian author, to authentically explain what it is like to be a girl who wants to be a doctor but lives in a shack made of scrap, I think it can create sympathy and bring a little awareness of what it would be like to not be a suburban third grader. The ending is pretty far-fetched, and was the weakest part of the book. To those who would shy away from this because it is written in verse, be not afraid. It was very easy to read and the form didn't hamper the story at all. I wouldn't have tried it if it hadn't been a favorite of hers this year, because of that, but those couplets didn't bother me one bit. My lasting impression, though, is that it was really, really sad, and I feel like I should have protected her from something and failed.
Profile Image for Wandering Librarians.
409 reviews48 followers
September 24, 2013
Serafina lives in Haiti with her mother and father, not far outside Port-au-Prince. More than anything, Serafina wants to go to school so that one day she can become a doctor. But her family has no money for school, and she must stay home and help her mother, so is expecting a baby. But Serafina won't give up on her dream, and makes a promise to herself that one day she'll make it to school.

This was a lovely, uplifting story that was full of hope. It was about the power of love and family, and that even when terrible things happen, you can rise above them. The book is written in verse, which, as I've said before, I don't usually love, but I will say that it worked well for this story and was not distracting.

At first, I wasn't sure where the book took place. It didn't say specifically, and Serafina's father worked "in the city." It wasn't until Port-au-Prince was specifically mentioned that I realized where we were, and then of course started worrying because there was probably an earthquake coming.

Serafina loves her family, even though she feels frustrated with them often, mostly with her mother. Her mother is constantly anxious and worrying, especially with a new baby on the way. Serafina was a big sister once before, but the baby died. That was when Serafina decided that one day she would be a doctor. Her mother is always telling her to do chores, and often seems to have no time to hear Serafina's thoughts or stories and experiences.

During the rainy season, Serafina's home is swept away, and she and her family must build a new home. It's hard, because Serafina no longer has her friends close by, but the new home actually ends up being better than the last, and there is even room for a garden, and with the increase in money, Serafina starts school.

The earthquake, of course, does happen, and Serafina must search for her family. Interestingly, while the book ends with hope, we don't actually know for sure if Serafina's mother, grandmother and baby brother are OK. I would like to believe they are, and Serafina finds them safe and keeps going to school and becomes a doctor. Because that's the way this book makes you feel.

This is a great middle school read, and excellent for looking at the recent events there, or what life is like in other countries, but your readers aren't quite up for In Darkness yet.

Serafina's Promise came out today.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for SaraKat.
1,548 reviews32 followers
November 10, 2017
A verse novel that tells the story of a young girl living in Haiti during the time just before and during the earthquake that decimated the area. She is part of a poor family who is scraping a living out of the land and work in the city. She dreams of going to school and becoming a doctor after the woman doctor who treated her baby brother impressed her so much. I think the poetry format wasn't necessary. The book read more like prose than poetry and there seemed to be no rhythm or rhyme to the poems. I read it like prose.

The plot and language were excellent. I loved the story and Serafina is such a dear. Her family was completely perfect. A little too perfect. Maybe it was the point-of-view of the naive little girl, but all the families were a little too good.

If I work hard
and help Manman,
maybe this time
our baby will live.

She is so little, but she has the weight of a dead brother on her shoulders. She feels that if she just ate a little less, her mother and brother would eat more. That is so sad. Her guilt about going to school and the money that could be used instead to take her brother to the doctor is heartbreaking as well. She has terrible choices to make.

Her grandmother, Gogo, has some really nice wisdom to share in the form of little sayings sprinkled throughout the book. I sure enjoyed them.
Weeds are flowers too poor for fancy clothes. A kind heart is the fanciest dress of all. Worry is never a cure for anything.


She learns to live with hunger and is not surprised to hear belly rumblings from herself and those around her. That makes me sad.
Sometimes I'm hungry.
Sometimes my belly
is so empty it grumbles,
and a plate of rice or a black banana
is just not enough.
On those days,
Papa sings louder,
and Manman's eyes are softer.
Gogo takes my hand
and we dance away
the rumbles.


As she sought shelter after the earthquake destroyed the city, she observed:
Sheets and sticks don't make
a very strong home,
but sometimes neither do wood and cement.
I watch Papa's arms stretch wide and strong against the darkening sky.
The only unbreakable home
is one made from love.


I wasn't terribly happy with the end as I felt it left a lot unsaid and undone, but overall an enjoyable story with heart and dreams.
Profile Image for Nicole.
23 reviews
Read
April 26, 2014
(Primary) Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg

1. Text-to-self: Some students may be able to relate to this book if they have lost a sibling, lived in poverty, or dreamed to become a doctor or other professions in life. Another great text-to-self question to help facilitate student connections is: Does anything in this story remind you of anything in your own life? It is important for students to be exposed to situations in live that different from their own. This can help students develop empathy towards others and instill that their dreams can come true if they work hard and do not give up.

2. Remembering: Can you tell me three things about Serafina and her life?
Understanding: How do you think Serafina felt when she lost her brother? How do you think she felt when she decided she wanted to become a doctor to save lives?
Applying: What would happen if Serafina did not have people to support her with her dream of becoming a doctor?
Analyzing: What is the relationship between Serafina and her grandmother?
Evaluating: What choice would you have made if you were Serifina as she saved money to go to school?
Creating: What do you think will happen to Serafina? Do you think she will go home to her family or continue school?

3. (2013, October 8). Horn Book Magazine. http://www.booksinprint.com.leo.lib.u...
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews309 followers
October 3, 2013
Serafina has a dream: to be a doctor like Dr. Antoinette Solaine, the clinic doctor who tried to save the life of her infant brother. To be a doctor, Serafina knows that she'll have to go to school... but there's no money for the books and uniform she'll need. Her family lives in a shack outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Serafina's every moment is taken up with chores to help the family eke out a meager living. And then disaster strikes and Serafina's family is left picking up the pieces. But what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.

Ann E. Burg's sparse prose is hopeful as Serafina meets every new challenge with determination and optimism. I really regret the lack of an author's note giving a little background information about the flood and earthquake. Kids are going to need scaffolding with this book, especially since the verse format lends itself to a more visceral and sensory experience of the disasters, rather than spelling out what happened.

Readalikes:

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes because it's another story of a plucky young girl dealing with natural disasters hitting her hometown.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff because it's a novel in verse about a girl who's determined to follow her dreams and get an education.
Profile Image for Karley.
32 reviews
April 22, 2019
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was really good. I HIGHLY recommend this book!!!
Profile Image for Dana Vanderpool.
19 reviews
June 21, 2016
Alternatives to Book Reports:
"The US President has learned that you've read this book and wants
to know one thing a main character discovered about life that you
think all Americans should know. What would you tell him? Why?"

Serafina and her family live in Haiti and have always struggled with food, chores and school. Serafina is a very strong, determined girl and wanted to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. She struggles to ease up on her work at home in order to put in that work in the classroom. Affected by drastic tragedy of losing a baby brother and experiencing natural disasters, Serafina discovers that in order to reach and achieve a dream, you must sometimes be selfish and greedy. Most aspects of life don't work like that but when you really put your mind and heart into something you want, you will do anything it takes to make that attainable. I think every person should have this mentality if it doesn't hurt anyone and you are able to help people in the end, which Serafina is able to do.
Profile Image for Kristen.
1,742 reviews29 followers
September 24, 2016
I've read several fantastic novels in verse this year, and while this one doesn't rank up there with Full Cicada Moon or Booked, it was still very good. Serafina is brave and strong in the face of countless adversities: poverty, flooding, sickness, earthquakes. And even though her situation is extreme, she still experiences the same emotions a typical pre-teen would have...resenting her chores, getting bored at school, being jealous of a friend. This will be great for my students who love verse novels or for those 6th grade Literacy students who enjoyed reading A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story in class.
Profile Image for Diane.
32 reviews
February 9, 2014
This verse novel brings to life the traumatic hardships that the people of Haiti have encountered, whether flood or earthquake or poverty, usually a combination. Serafina and her best friend dream of going to school so that they can study to someday become doctors to help their people. Finding the money and the time (family chores/responsibilities are important and expected) to go to school is difficult, but her parents help her to make it happen. Serafina's family is surrounded by love, and no matter what occurs, even when her infant brother dies, they fall back on that love to get through their troubles. Children who read this story and get to know sweet Serafina will gain a better understanding of what life is like in Haiti; how vital education, clean water, good food, health care, and stable housing are to a promising, secure life; and most importantly what a blessing family and friends can be.
Profile Image for Lea Ann.
418 reviews16 followers
April 26, 2014
My 12-year-old daughter recommended this book to me because she knows I love emotional, heartwarming stories. My daughter also shares my love of books written in verse. Serafina is a sweet, young, Haitian girl who dreams of going to school and helping her family. She faces many obstacles, but her hope, faith, and optimism help her overcome. Serafina's story is bittersweet and subtly brings forth the struggle of a people in a nation with a great heritage that often gets overlooked. The tale may be a little predictable for an adult reader, but I still found it enjoyable.
Profile Image for Adaline Griffiths.
Author 1 book11 followers
February 26, 2016
Serafina's promise is a book told through "prose". Basically this is one very long narrative poem. Serafina has a dream. She and her best friend want to become doctors. But in their small village in Haiti there are many obstacles. Money, chores, and parents. Serafina's mother has endless worries, and she gives Serafina endless chores. How can Serafina become a doctor if she can't go to school? That's not the worst of it. There isn't enough food, and then comes the earthquake, and disaster. I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Lilla.
295 reviews6 followers
March 17, 2016
I think novels in verse are very appealing to middle grade readers. This one is no exception. Serafina is a young girl growing up in Haiti who has many responsibilities around her home, yet she has a dream of one day going to school to become a doctor. We see her struggle with this dream and the lengths she has to go to in order to attend school. The heart of this novel is the importance of family, but this novel also addresses the extreme poverty of so many Haitian citizens before and after the earthquake.
Profile Image for Laurie.
342 reviews8 followers
April 6, 2017
Beautiful novel in verse bringing the story of hope in a young Haitian girl's heart. Her dream to become a doctor survives flood and earthquake; she holds fast to her father's encouragement: "Look, the stars still shine." She shoos away worry, reminding herself that "Sometimes buzzing bees stay too long in our brains, but only because we let them." There is always hope -- "Life is hard, but no matter what happens, we beat the drum and we dance again."
Profile Image for Laura Phelps.
604 reviews9 followers
August 23, 2013
A beautifully constructed novel in verse set in Haiti. Serafina longs to go to school so she can become a doctor, but her family can’t afford to send her. The characters are sympathetic and there is enough action (floods and the massive earthquake) to keep the plot moving, but the highlight is really the gorgeous writing and the format makes it accessible to a wide array of readers.
Profile Image for CLA_MA.
147 reviews2 followers
September 26, 2013
Serafina lives in Haiti with her mother and father, not far outside Port-au-Prince. More than anything, Serafina wants to go to school so that one day she can become a doctor. But her family has no money for school, and she must stay home and help her mother, so is expecting a baby. But Serafina won't give up on her dream, and makes a promise to herself that one day she'll make it to school.
Profile Image for Tara Mickela.
675 reviews8 followers
October 4, 2013
Perfect for a kiddo who wants to be (or must be) introduced to fiction in verse. Totally going after another of her books!! Haven't seen or heard much about the Haitian earthquake from a child's perspective, but better than that it exposes the heart-wrenching conditions which perpetually exist, earthquake or not.
Profile Image for Crystal.
2,187 reviews112 followers
January 6, 2014
Serafina is a determined little girl in Haiti. Her family has already lost one child and they are working hard to keep themselves fed and sheltered. Serafina wants more though. She wants to go to school so she can be a doctor and she is willing to do a lot to make that dream come true. This is a story of trouble, family love, and persistence.
4 reviews4 followers
January 3, 2017
Touching story in free verse

While Serafina struggles with daily chores for her family's survival., she dreams of going to school and becoming a doctor. The touching story, written in free verse, follows Serafina's family through trials and triumphs as Serafina discovers what is most important to her in life. Recommended reading for intermediate grade students.
Profile Image for Maria.
381 reviews
February 9, 2017
This book made me think how difficult life could be for those so young. Serafina faced many hardships as a young girl, wanting only to go to school and become a doctor. Through these hardships which are explained in verse, Serafina finds the courage to become closer to her dream, while gaining strength from those who love her the most.
Profile Image for Morgan Bishop.
74 reviews3 followers
February 5, 2017
An amazing free-verse novel, this book tells the story of a young Haitian girl and her family. This is a great, quick read that I enjoyed as an adult, but would also be great for a middle school classroom! Think a kid's version of Nectar In a Sieve. Excellent read!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 335 reviews

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