‘Promise’ a powerful tale


Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.

You've got a dream.

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“Serafina’s Promise” by Ann E. Burg, c. 2013, Scholastic, $16.99, 304 pages. (Special to the Guardian)

Every kid does, but yours is special. Someday, you want to be a football player 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 will 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.

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.

So Serafina spent her days carrying water and doing chores and turning her secret over in her head. 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. 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 a weepy drama.

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.

Terri Schlichenmeyer lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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