Friday, August 22, 2014

Serafina's Promise

Haiti holds a special place in my heart, even though I haven't been there yet. During my time in The Bahamas, I have met many Haitians and taught a unit on Haiti, our students raised funds for Haitian students, and I tutored a Haitian man in English. One of my dreams is to travel to this country and volunteer. In the meantime, I think one of my responsibilities as a teacher is to make sure my students are reading about Haiti and making connections. I wrote in the past that there needs to be more YA literature set in Haiti: Taste of Salt is good for middle school students, and In Darkness is appropriate for high school students. I've found the perfect middle grade novel in Ann E. Burg's Serafina's Promise.

Serafina is a young girl who dreams of being a doctor so that she can help others. She is determined that other families won't lose babies the way she lost her younger brother. Unfortunately, to be a doctor, you need to attend school. Serafina must work hard to attend school, in spite of the hunger and natural disasters that plague her life. I read the book with a sense of foreboding, knowing that the 2010 earthquake would happen at some point, and wondering how it would affect Serafina's dreams. Burg nicely balances the reality of the earthquake with some hope for the future. Her descriptions don't get more graphic than:

"Around me, people crawl
on hands and knees,
looking for those they love.
They scratch and paw
like hungry animals,
searching for food."

I'm happy that there is optimism in this story. Readers of this age group need that for their protagonists, and Haitians deserve a happy ending.

I loved Burg's All the Broken Pieces and hope she continues writing novels that take us inside the lives of children from around the world. Novels in verse are such an accessible way to learn about a new culture. They also tend to look hefty, so developing readers feel proud lugging them around, even if the actual type on the page is sparse. Burg provides ways to use Serafina in the classroom and how it relates to the Common Core. I'm adding this to my list of Caribbean Literature and will be recommending it to everyone.

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