Educator’s Guide: Serafina’s Promise

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting held on April 6, 2015. The following information comprises a standards-based educator’s guide that the LAII has produced to support using Serafina’s Promise in the classroom. The standards are not included here, but are included with each section of the lesson plans in the PDF.  The complete guide is available for download at no cost: Vamos A Leer Educator’s Guide: Serafina’s Promise

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our Book Review.


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.


  • 2014 Américas Award Commended Title
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2013
  • ALA 2014 Notable Children’s Books
  • Junior Reading Guild Selection
  • School Library Journal Starred Review/Best Books, 2013
  • NYPL Children’s Books 100 Books Worth Reading and Sharing, 2013
  • NAACP Image Award Nominee
  • Cybils Award Finalist for Middle Grade Fiction
  • ALA Notable Book 2013


This month we are featuring Ann E. Burg and her YA novel-in-verse, Serafina’s Promise (ages 10 and up). This is her second novel-in-verse after the highly acclaimed All the Broken Pieces.

Burg’s parents were artists, thus her childhood was enriched with music and poetry, setting up a foundation for her creative form of writing. She started exploring her local libraries at a young age, and knew that she wanted to write books since she was four years old. Burg worked as an English teacher for ten years before shifting the majority of her attention to writing novels, though she wrote many poems and stories before her first publication in 2003.

Burg wrote Serafina’s Promise after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. She was inspired to write this story after coming across a picture of a small girl crying during the aftermath of the earthquake. She wanted to explore the reality for people in Haiti. As she states in an article by The Combined Book Exhibit “I was saddened and also disappointed in myself to know that I knew so little about Haiti and so like most Americans I was glued to the television screen and found myself reading lots of articles, discovering what a beautiful place, and what a beautiful people the Haitian people are.”

Burg has expressed that Serafina’s story and the impoverished conditions of her setting were “so much different than anything that I’ve ever been exposed to.” The strength and resilience that she saw in Haitian children inspired her to portray a protagonist who fights for her dream of becoming a doctor, in spite of all the obstacles she faces.

In a guest post for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog Cynsations, Burg describes how she collects her research in the form of stories, objects, and images in an old pot of hers that represents a recipe for her writing. For Serafina’s Promise she included the following “You beat the drums and you dance again is my favorite Haitian proverb, one that best captures the spirit of the Haitian people. It’s a proverb which continually rose to the top of my simmering pot and became the defining ingredient in my verse novel, Serafina’s Promise.”

Check out Ann E Burg’s website for more information about the author


For teaching Serafina’s Promise:

For teaching about Haiti:

Social Studies and History

In addition to the resources listed above from Brooklyn College and Teaching for Change, have students research the topics below for a more expansive understanding of some of the socio-political issues alluded to in the book.

  1. Research what languages are spoken in Haiti. Why do you think the principle behind learning in French is problematic for some people like it is for Serafina and Antoinette Solaine.
  2. Research the Haitian flag. What does is look like? What is its history? What do the different parts represent or symbolize? How does Gogo explain what the colors of the flag mean? Once you’ve researched the flag, explain Gogo’s statement “The flag remembers what they world forgets. We were slaves, but now we’re free.” (p. 28)

Guided Reading Questions

Part One | Pages 1-98

  1. What jobs does Serafina do each day? Do you have jobs or chores that have to do every day? What are they? How do they compare to Serafina’s? (p. 1-3)
  2. Make an inference: Manman is pregnant now, but what happened to the baby before this one? (p. 2)
  3. Who are Serafina’s best friends? What are they doing? Why can’t Serafina join them? (p. 3)
  4. Who is Banza? Why does Serafina like him? (p. 5)
  5. Why is Sunday Serafina’s favorite day? What does she do? Make a personal connection: What is your favorite day? Why?
  6. Explain what Gogo means when she says “Weeds are flowers too poor for fancy clothes.” (p. 8)
  7. What is Gogo’s message when she says “A kind heart is the fanciest dress of all”? (p. 8)
  8. What simile does Serafina use to describe the bad feelings she has inside of her? What simile would you use to describe what it feels like when you have bad feelings? (p. 8)
  9. What is Serafina’s secret? What do Serafina and Julie Marie dream of doing? (p. 9)
  10. Why can’t Serafina go to school? (p. 9)
  11. Make an inference: How does Serafina feel when Nadia talks about school? Do you think Julie Marie can tell how Serafina feels? How does Julie Marie respond to Nadia? (p. 11-12)
  12. How would you define the word wisdom? Based on this, what does is mean to say, “The only real wisdom is kindness”? Do you agree? Explain. (p. 13)
  13. Who is Antoinette Solaine? Why does Serafina meet her?
  14. How do we learn that Serafina’s family struggles with poverty? What questions does the doctor ask that reveal this? (p. 16-17)
  15. What does Serafina worry about after the doctor’s visit? (p. 17)
  16. What happens to Pierre? How does Serafina describe losing him? (p. 19) Have you ever lost someone? Do Serafina’s words describe your feelings?
  17. Describe Serafina’s home. How does is compare to where you live? (p. 22-23)
  18. What does Papa want to do for Flay Day? What does Manman think? (p. 25-28).
  19. How does Gogo describe Granpé? How did Granpé die? (p. 30-33)
  20. Who were the Tonton Macoutes?
  21. Do you think that seeing the Tonton Macoutes take away her father still affects Manman today? How? (p. 33-35)
  22. Granpe said “Education is the road to freedom” (p. 30). Do you agree with this? Where would you be without education? Do you think that we take education for granted in the United States? What if you couldn’t afford to go to school or learn to read, what would your life be like? What kind of job would you be able to get?
  23. How do Manman and Gogo earn money for the family? (p. 38)
  24. How does Serafina help Banza? What does it say about Serafina that Banza trusts her, even when he’s in pain? (p. 42)
  25. What does Serafina decide she’ll do on Flay Day? (. 46)
  26. What kind of friend do you think Julie Marie is? Do you have a friend like her? (p. 50)
  27. Have you ever had a day or an event that you were as excited as Serafina is for Flay Day? What was it? (p. 52-53)
  28. What all do Serafina and Papa pass as they walk to the store where Papa works? (p. 58-64)
  29. What is Mr. Pétion’s home like? (p. 68)
  30. Why do you think Serafina pretends she doesn’t see Nadia? What feeling is she struggling with? (p. 71)
  31. What do you think it means to be the master of one’s own soil? (p. 71)
  32. Have you ever wanted anything as badly as Serafina wants to go to school? What was it? How are Serafina’s feelings about school different from the average student in the U.S.? Do you think many students in the U.S. are grateful that they get to go to school? Or, do you think students tend to think of it as a chore, something they have to do, but don’t want to do? (p. 74)
  33. How does Papa respond when Serafina shares her desire to go to school? What does he tell her she’ll have to do in order to attend school? Which do you think will be the hardest for her to accomplish? Why? (p. 75-77)
  34. What are Serafina’s ideas for how to earn money to go to school? (p. 78)
  35. How does Manman respond when Serafina brings up Granpé during their conversation about school? Do you think that all of Manman’s worries and what happened to Granpé are connected? (p. 88)
  36. How does Serafina’s conversation with Manman end? Is there any resolution? (p. 88-90)
  37. What happens while Serafina is getting water for the day? (p. 92-97)
  38. Why do you think that Manman doesn’t let the man in the pink shirt carry Serafina? What do you think this tells us about Manman? (p. 96)
  39. How do they know where to find Papa? (p. 97)

Part 2 | Pages 99-218

  1. What happened to Serafina’s family’s home after the flood? (p. 101-102)
  2. Where do they go to after the storm? (p. 103)
  3. What is Gogo’s surprise? Why do you think she brought that particular item? (p. 104)
  4. While they have to rebuild their home, there are some advantages to their new location. What are they? (p. 106-108)
  5. What is weighing heavily on Serafina? What is she worried about the most after the strom? (p. 108-112)
  6. Who does Serafina find when she goes to the ravine to get water? (p. 112-113)
  7. How has the flood changed Serafina? (p. 115-116)
  8. What are they building their new house out of? (p. 123)
  9. Is Gregory delivered safely? How is this delivery different than most in the U.S.? (p. 128-130)
  10. How successful is the garden? Make a prediction: Do you think it’s going to earn the family enough for Serafina to attend school? (p. 133-137)
  11. What does Julie Marie reveal to Serafina about going to school? Why didn’t Julie Marie tell Serafina this earlier? (p. 135-136)
  12. Why do you think Banza found Serafina? (p. 137-139)
  13. Does Serafina convince her Manman to let her attend school? What does Manman base her decision on? (p. 146-147)
  14. What good news does Julie Marie have to share with Serafina? (p. 149)
  15. What does Serafina learn from Julie Marie’s father? Why are they leaving? (p. 154)
  16. What do Serafina and Gogo find in the garden? What would have happened if they hadn’t discovered this soon enough? (p. 157-158)
  17. How do the other students treat Serafina when she arrives at school the first day? (p. 164-166)
  18. What things does Serafina learn her first day of school? (p. 167-172)
  19. Who does she walk home with? (p. 173)
  20. Why is Serafina upset with how Manman responds when she gets home from her first day of school? (p. 174-178)
  21. Why do they speak French in Haiti? (p. 183)
  22. What language does Serafina speak before and after school, when she’s doing chores or singing to her brother? Where did this language come from? (p. 183)
  23. What does Serafina learn about Christopher Columbus in school? Do you think this is an accurate account of Columbus? (p. 184)
  24. What does Serafina celebrate on Jou Lèmò or Day of the Dead? (p. 186)
  25. How did Serafina’s family celebrate Christmas the year before? (p. 189) Does your family celebrate Christmas? Compare your celebration to Serafina’s.
  26. What does Serafina notice on Gregory’s legs? What do you think is wrong with Gregory? How do you know that Manman is worried even if she doesn’t show it? (p. 192)
  27. Is Gregory any better by Christmas vacation? (p. 196-197)
  28. How does Serafina’s family celebrate Christmas this year? (p. 198-200)
  29. Knowing the history of the French in Haiti that Serafina has learned, why do you think it makes her sad to find herself thinking in French and not Creole? (p. 205)
  30. Why is Serafina struggling to her desire to be in school and learn? What has changed? (p. 206-208)
  31. What does Serafina decide to do after school instead of going straight home? Do you think this is a good idea? (p. 212-214)

Part Three | 219-295

  1. Re-read the descriptions on page 217, 221, -223. What do you think is happening? (Hint: It’s a type of natural disaster).
  2. How do you think it would feel to find yourself outside in the middle of an earthquake? Describe the different sensations you think you would feel.
  3. Where does Serafina decide to go once the earthquake has stopped and she can walk again? (p. 230)
  4. What does Serafina see as she walks to the city? (p. 232-237)
  5. What sayings from Manman and Gogo keep Serafina searching for her family? (p. 241)
  6. Who finds Serafina in the city? (p. 244-245)
  7. Who does Serafina see while riding with Antoinette Solaine? (p. 251-253)
  8. Serafina has a number of questions about the usefulness of staying in school. What are they? How does Antoinette Solaine respond to Serafina? What does she share about her own schooling experience?
  9. Why does Antoinette Solaine believe that it’s important for Serafina to stay in school? (p. 257)
  10. What does Julie Marie reveal to Serafina about her ‘aunt’? How did this woman treat Julie Marie? (p. 261-262)
  11. Why do you think Serafina doesn’t choose to tell Julie Marie about her family? (p. 262)
  12. How does Serafina find Papa? What has happened to him? Where is he? Who helps to rescue him? (p. 269-272)
  13. While Serafina knows she should have gone straight home to Manman, what happened as a result of her choice to try and find the clinic? (p. 279)
  14. How are people attempting to recover from the earthquake? What do Serafina, Papa and Julie Marie see on the first day of their walk home? Where do they sleep? (p. 284-285)
  15. How does Julie Marie react to Serafina’s news that her family has moved away? (p. 287-288)
  16. What keeps Julie Marie from being jealous of her friends? How would you interpret what her Manman told her? Do you think this advice would change any of your feelings about other people? (p. 289)

Reflective Writing Questions

  1. Compare Serafina’s childhood with your own. How are they different? How are they the same? Compare Serafina’s childhood with the average childhood of an American. Are there many similarities? How do you think Serafina would respond to learning about what life is like in the United States?
  2. Think about a path that you walk or take (maybe in the car, on a bus, or on a bike) on a daily basis (think about how you get to school, work, or home). Now, re-read Serafina’s description of her walk on page one. Describe what it would feel like to walk your path barefoot. What different terrains would you would over and/or through.
  3. Think about the many riddles that Gogo shares with Serafina. Which is your favorite? Why? Which do you think you could learn the most from? Why? You can find Gogo’s riddles on pages: 6, 8, 13, 24, 29, 52, 55, 65, 91, 134, 154, 155, 194
  4. Serafina asks some tough questions: “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?” How would you answer these questions? Historically change is often brought about by violent conflict—do you think that sometimes we have to be willing to make sacrifices in order to make the world a better and more just place? How do we decide who makes those sacrifices?
  5. Describe Serafina’s relationship with her mother. Do you think they love each other? How well do you think they understand each other? Are they more similar or different? Use examples from the novel to explain your answer.
  6. Why do you think Antoinette Solaine has such an important impact on Serafina? How might Serafina’s life be different if she’d never met Antoinette Solaine? Can you think of someone who has impacted your life like that? Who was it? How did they impact you?
  7. What do you think of Serafina’s statement “The only unbreakable home is one made from love”? (p.285) Does this change the way you think of the word home? How would you define the word home based on Serafina’s statement? Explain your answer.
  8. How would you answer Serafina’s question: “There are so many lost and broken people. How can we help them all?” (p. 293). Explain your answer.
  9. Explain Manman’s philosophy on life: “Life is hard, but no matter what happens, we beat the drum and we dance again” (p. 293).


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website. This guide was prepared March 2015 by Lorraine Archibald, LAII Graduate Assistant, and Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant.

One thought on “Educator’s Guide: Serafina’s Promise

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Serafina’s Promise | Vamos a Leer

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