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


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.


Serafina, a young Haitian girl, wants more than anything to go to school to become a doctor.  But her dream seems impossible when she has to spend all day doing chores to help her mother who is about to have another baby. It was the loss of a previous baby and the efforts of a female doctor to prevent it that have inspired Serafina to want to be a doctor. But everything seems to be preventing Serafina from even pursuing her dream: natural disasters, lack of money, and unending chores. Can Serafina find a way to survive and pursue her dream?

Not only is the poetry beautifully written but it's surprisingly evocative as well. One of the things that verse can do so well is express the feelings of the characters and Burg does a fabulous job of this. I really felt like I knew Serafina and her dreams and worries, heartaches and joys. In a relatively few words, I also found myself sympathizing with Serafina's parents; Manman who worries so much and Papa, who works so hard to provide for his family and still finds reasons to smile. The characterization is beautifully and tenderly presented.

In terms of plot, the story is appealing to me because it highlights the value of an education. Ironically, it also portrays the fact that sometimes when we get what we want, it isn't always what we thought it would be and yet it's the only way to get to where we want to go. The presentation of the natural disasters is thoughtfully and powerfully done despite the sparse use of words, I got a distinct feel for the circumstances Serafina and her family found themselves in. Not that there is any real way to understand what that's like without being there, but this comes close.

Overall, a beautifully written and presented story about dreams and overcoming the odds.  The only problem I foresee here is the format.  Most children won't pick up free verse stories, still if one or two will pick it up I think they will be well rewarded for their efforts.


  1. I hadn't heard of this book before, but it sounds wonderful. I enjoy books told in verse and this one sounds like it has a great plot and interesting characters. I definitely have to read this one! Thanks for sharing. :)


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