Serafina makes several promises besides the one that becomes the underlying premise of this story. Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, which I read in an advance reading copy, goes on sale September 24. Serafina, growing up in Haiti finds her hopes dashed repeatedly by poverty, illness, a flood, and an earthquake. Simple promises, to do all her chores and never to forget a friend from whom she is separated, mingle with more serious promises to God. These always include never complaining again if she can find a way to go to school or if her brother is healed. Her promises reflect strong family ties as she vows to honor Grandpe’ and his belief that education is the road to freedom and to always be truthful if her papa is rescued after being trapped in the earthquake. The driving force in the title’s primary promise to go to school and become a doctor seems the most unlikely promise of all to keep considering Serafina’s circumstances, yet somehow the most expected to come true.
Ann’s lyrical style begs for some form of reading aloud. I’ll give my preferences in order with the best first.
1. With a class of school children, put up a map of Haiti. Talk BRIEFLY about its history and environmental challenges. Read the book aloud over several days with time for children to speculate on the probabilities of Serafina’s dreams. (If you don’t have a class, schools sometimes let reliable volunteers come in for good activities like this.)
2. With one or a few children (relatives or friends), at your home or theirs, follow the same procedure. This is less favorable only because fewer children get to share the experience.
3. If neither of these are possible, do what I did. Find a place alone (so nobody will think you need to be committed) and read it aloud to yourself. The sounds of the words add much to the beauty of the story.
A few samples prove my point:
“Which is better, to tell the truth and die, or to give the bad people what they want and live?”
“When you read, you discover . . . when you write, you remember.”
“A child who doesn’t sleep at night is a crocodile in the morning.” (I can vouch for this one.)
After seeing her father’s boss’s garage, “I’ll never build a house for my car. People need houses more than cars do.”
I think I can be safe in making my own promise. You will not be disappointed no matter which way you decide to read this book.