Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg

I'm going to start off by telling you that this is a beautifully written book. I'm a bit of a sucker for verse anyway.  It seems like people can pack such a wallop into a few words using this format. This book is no exception. 

"What good is being brave
if being brave gets you killed.
Which is better,
to tell the truth and die,
or to give the bad people
what they want and live?"

"I wonder what hunger is like 
without a family
to fill the emptiness."

11 year old Serafina is an ordinary kid with a big dream. She wants to go to school to become a doctor. While their family is rich in love, they work hard just to survive. Serafina must stay home to help her mother. Everyday she must trudge to get water for them. Then she has to gather wood and help with other numerous chores. Even if she didn't have to pitch in, they just don't have enough money for a school uniform and school fees. 

Through this book the reader will learn something of Haiti.

  • that it was the first free black country
  • that in recent history people have endured both flood and earthquake
  • that poverty results in malnutrition which leads to infant mortality

Ann E. Burg, the author, is a white woman who has never been to Haiti. In the acknowledgment section she notes working with the Haitian People's Support Project as well as thanking the librarians who helped her with her research. I'm still left with these questions - Is it appropriate for a white woman to write the story of a black girl who lives in a country she has never been to? Where does the profit from this book go? If it goes to support schools and learning conditions in Haiti, then I will be more likely to let go of my discomfort. 

Irrespective of my quibbles, I plan to read much more of Ann E. Burg's work. This is an excellent book that will lend itself to all kinds of conversation. Perhaps the issue of cultural appropriation will be one of them. 

If you are interested in Haitian history I recommend you read In Darkness by Nick Lake

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