Review: Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

seraphinas promise

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

The author of All the Broken Pieces returns with a new verse novel.  Serafina lives with her mother and father in Haiti.  She and her best friend dream of becoming doctors in order to help save people like her baby brother who died.  But Serafina’s family cannot afford for her to even attend school.  Instead she has to work hard to help her mother who is pregnant with another baby.  Serafina carries water for her family, empties chamber pots, sweeps the floor, and keeps the family fire burning.Her father is one of the lucky ones who has a steady job in the nearby city that he walks to every day.  There is no extra money for anything though, even with his work.  When a large storm comes, their small village is ruined and Serafina’s family moves to higher ground.  It is there that Serafina’s dreams start to come true with her new garden and the money it brings.  Then the earthquake strikes.

Burg tells a gripping story of  a young girl with huge dreams living in abject poverty.  Her family is strong and loving, just unable to lift themselves out of the poverty that surrounds them everywhere.  Burg shares small details of life in Haiti, nicely weaving them into the poetry so that it is revealed in a rich and natural way.  The Creole language is also used throughout the book, offering a rhythm and sound that enlivens the entire setting.

Serafina is a well-developed character.  Many of the poems show her own inner feelings in all of their complex beauty.  She is not a perfect character, sometimes showing stubbornness and jealousy, but that just makes her all the more compellingly human.  And the verse throughout the book is lovely, evocative and very effective.  Readers will know that the earthquake is coming and that also creates a tension that makes the book riveting.

This is a powerful look at the Haitian earthquake through the eyes of one extraordinary young woman.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Review: Kenta and the Big Wave by Ruth Ohi

kenta and the big wave

Kenta and the Big Wave by Ruth Ohi

When the tsunami sirens sounded, Kenta headed up the big hill to the school just as he had practiced.  But along the way, he lost hold of his soccer ball and it rolled down the hill.  Kenta’s parents were already at the school and when they returned to their house, it was ruined.  They had to sleep in the school gym and search in the rubble for things to salvage.  But Kenta’s soccer ball had been carried off by the water.  Kenta tried making a soccer ball from scraps but it didn’t work well.  Meanwhile, his ball was being carried by the ocean until it reached another country.  Would it ever find its way back to Kenta?

Ohi has written a very simple but compelling look at surviving a natural disaster.  Her focus on a single beloved possession works particularly well.  I also appreciated that it was not a doll or a stuffed animal but rather something that older children can relate to.  It was also a good choice to not have Kenta and his family in direct peril and survive.  The safe status of everything but the ball and other material objects makes it easier for the ball to be important and mean more.

Ohi’s illustrations are filled with color.  The yellows of the grass pop against the blues of the ocean.  Kenta wears a bright red hoodie and stands out on each page.  The time the ball spends in the ocean is particularly lovely and quiet compared to the mess of the town.

Based on true accounts of objects appearing in other countries after the tsunami in Japan, this book celebrates the connection people can have without ever having met.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.