Serafina, who lives in the outskirts of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince, has never had the chance to go to school. With rarely enough to eat, her family has nothing left over to pay the school fees, much less buy the required uniform. While her father works at a city grocery store, her pregnant mother and widowed grandmother Gogo grow herbs they sell on a city street corner. Exhausted from carrying water, chopping wood, and more, Serafina dreams of getting an education and becoming a doctor: at 11, she is well aware, “Education is the road to freedom.“
When the family’s hut is swept away by a sudden flood, her family manages to survive while many others do not. Serafina’s parents rebuild on higher ground, where they welcome baby Gregory. Having previously lost infant brother Pierre to malnutrition, the family is constantly concerned for Gregory’s fragile health.
Determined to start school in the new year, Serafina devises a plan to fill an empty jar with extra coins that will pay for her tuition. She has to double her walks to collect extra water for the plants Gogo will help her grow – and later sell – but she knows that all the hard work will take her to a promising new future.
Like her award-winning all the broken pieces, Ann E. Burg presents Serafina’s story as a lyrical novel in verse. Burg remarkably renders the difficulties, tragedies, and joys Serafina experiences into spare, essential phrases, creating a resonating example of less is more. To read both all the broken pieces and Serafina’s Promise is to appreciate their elliptical beauty, even as you’re both disturbed and inspired by the young protagonists’ tenacity and resilience. Don’t miss either.
Tidbit: In case you needed any more prodding to pick up Serafina, here are two more reasons: Haitian People’s Support Project and Pure Water for the World, where Burg is donating a portion of her royalties. Read well, do good.
Readers: Middle Grade