Serafina & the Common Core

The Common Core Curriculum seeks to engage students in literary works which will broaden their world view and prepare them for a global society. As classroom objectives are reshaped by these standards, I thought it might be helpful if I were able to demonstrate how Serafina’s Promise, supports your efforts to implement the Common Core. As a former English teacher, I am also appreciative of the time it takes to integrate new pieces of literature into the curriculum and have included possible responses to some of the questions I have posed. Serafina’s Promise may be read by a range of ages and grade levels. I have chosen to detail the standards for Grades 6 & 7; however, these suggestions are easily adapted to other grades. 

Serafina’s Promise is the story of a young girl in Haiti who wants to go to school. Written entirely in verse, Serafina’s story allows readers to experience her struggles and triumphs as she seeks to overcome the limitations of her environment and her personal circumstances.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1/CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Serafina’s Promise details a culture and lifestyle vastly different from our own. Students will be able to note explicit descriptions of Serafina’s world (her house, the natural environment, her daily chores, as well as her interior reflections) while being challenged to find deeper meanings: What can we infer from these descriptions? How is Serafina’s world different from our own? Are there any similarities? What conclusions can we draw about human nature? 

Possible Response: On page 22 we learn that on old tin table and a single chair help prop up the slanted walls of Serafina’s home…clean clothes hang neatly across a stretch of tattered string. Her bed is a blanket on the floor. We can infer that Serafina is very poor and does not have many of the comforts which we take for granted. On the following page we learn that Serafina wants to jump rope with her friends and is angry when she is told she must finish her chores first. This tells us that even though Serafina lives in a very different world, friends are still important. Serafina is not very different than children here.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.

Throughout the novel, as Serafina goes about her daily chores and meets the challenges of her daily existence, an overall theme emerges. What is theme? What details from the story enforce this theme?'

Possible Response: Gogo tells Serafina that the blue of the flag is for hope;” Hope makes us live”. After the flood, Serafina’s papa comforts her mother by reminding her to look up the stars that are still shining. Manman tells Serafina that no matter what, “we beat the drums and we dance again.” At the end of the book, Serafina recalls these words and looks up at the stars that are still shining. One central theme of Serafina’s Promise is the importance of hope. 


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.3 Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.3 Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).

Serafina’s Promise unfolds as a series of poems. Throughout the novel, Serafina’s voice is consistent and the harshness of her environment does not change. At the same time, Serafina’s interior dialogue reflects a change in attitude. As the plot moves toward resolution, students will be challenged to discover how we know this change occurs. What are some major episodes in Serafina’s life? How do her reactions reflect her transformation?

Possible Response: Haiti’s poverty and natural disasters provide the setting for Serafina’s Promise and shape both characters and plot. One example of how setting shape shapes character is on page 32, when we learn how Serafina’s grandfather was taken away by the Tonton Macoutes. Later in the poem Gogo tells Serafina to be patient with her mother because her mother’s heart is full of fear. In the closing poems of the novel, when Serafina has almost lost her own father, Serafina better understands her mother’s fears.

Craft and Structure

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.5 /CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Since Serafina’s Promise is a poetry novel, each word and phrase has been carefully chosen. In addition, the novel is sprinkled with Haitian phrases. Readers should examine and explore the impact of particular words and phrases as well as their figurative and connotative meanings. How has the inclusion of Haitian Creole added rhythm and authenticity? What are some examples of figurative language? Why is word choice so important to the overall structure of this book?

Possible Response: On page 60, Serafina arrives in the city. Baskets piled high with colorful fruit, open pots of crackling plantains and sweet potatoes welcome her. Rumbling tap-taps and coughing cars recreate the lively atmosphere and joyful rhythm of Port-au-Prince. Elsewhere in the novel Haitian phrases, such as Bondye bon (God is good) and Mèsi Anpil (Thank you so much) emphasize not only the rhythm of Haitian Creole, but also the joyful and appreciative heart of the Haitian people.  

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.5 Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.5 Analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning.

Students reading Serafina’s Promise should determine how the chosen form contributes to their understanding of the theme, setting, and plot. How does the structure contribute to the overall experience of Serafina’s world? How might this experience be different if Serafina’s story were told in a more traditional format? How might it be broken into chapters? 

Possible Response: Because Serafina’s Promise is written in verse, we experience Serafina’s instantaneous response to the story events. We are there when the floodwaters rise. We are there when the earth begins to tremble. This gives the story a greater sense of immediacy and gives readers a greater emotional connection to Serafina. Had the story been told in a more traditional format, some of this urgency and sense of connection might be lost. 

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.3 /CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.3 Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.3a Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.*

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.3b Maintain consistency in style and tone.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.3a Choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, recognizing and eliminating wordiness and redundancy.

Students may be asked to choose an incident from Serafina’s Promise to rewrite in a more traditional form. They should be encouraged to include relevant details and varied sentence patterns while maintaining consistency in style and tone.

Possible Response: Brown, brittle grass prickled her bare feet as Serafina walked slowly up the hill. She held out her hands to balance the bucket of water on her head so she wouldn’t spill the smallest drop. Her grandmother, Gogo, would be proud!

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.6 Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.6 Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

Seraphina’s Promise is a first person narrative, told completely from Serafina’s point of view, and yet we have a clear understanding of each character. Students will be challenged to find the concrete details and incidents that reveal Serafina’s character as well as the characters who shape her world. A meaningful writing activity might be to tell the story from another character’s point of view, making sure to include concrete details and incidents. How does telling the story from another character’s point of view impact the theme of the story? How might it shape or affect the readers’ view of Serafina?

Possible Response: If the story were told from another character’s point of view, we would not have the same insight into Serafina’s character and would not understand why she does the thing she does. For example, if the story were told from Nadia’s point of view, Serafina might appear rude and even mean. She didn’t seem interested in Nadia’s notebook and doesn’t wave when she sees Nadia on Flag Day. 

In addition to the literacy goals stated above, Serafina’s Promise may be used as a springboard for a number of research projects relating to the Common Core History/Social Studies Curriculum. Students could be encouraged to dig deeper to explore the background of Serafina’s world. Recent events in Haiti may be studied from a multitude of platforms which will allow students the opportunity to examine and evaluate information from a variety of primary and secondary sources. Students may then present their findings in written, visual, or oral projects that would implement the following standards:

Key Ideas and Details & Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.8 Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Text Types and Purposes

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2a Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories as appropriate to achieving purpose; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2b Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2e Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.