Great-grandfather asks his great-granddaughter to pick “what you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”
What will she choose? An old jewelry box … a case of fine fountain pens … a mirror?
The young girl makes an unusual choice – an old cigar box full of empty matchboxes. Well, not exactly empty. Each matchbox holds a surprise. Her great-grandfathers explains that when he was a child he could not read or write but he wanted to keep a diary, a journal of memories of his travels from a home far away, across the ocean, to the strange land of America. Each matchbox contains one item that holds a special memory.
In The Matchbox Diary, Newbery Award winning author Paul Fleischman creates a story told entirely in dialogue that quickly captivates readers and listeners of all ages with poignant stories of cross-generational relationships and the deep connections that form among them.
“What’s in the little boxes?”
“What’s a diary?”
“A way to remember what happens to you. Usually it’s a book people write in… but I couldn’t read or write. So I started this. Open the first one.”
“What is it?
“An olive pit. I put it in my palm, and I’m right back in Italy….”
With the opening of each matchbox, Great-grandfather and his great-granddaughter share a discovery of family and history. The journey is delightful.
Award-winning children’s book illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline provides key details in his illustrations. Ibatoulline, himself, has experienced the hard journey of immigration. Scenes of the present are painted with soft inviting colors; scenes from the past are created in the fading tones of sepia and framed so the reader, like the great-granddaughter, imagines old photographs carefully displayed in a family album.
Great-grandfather’s immigration story is shared with intimacy and warmth – a beautiful experience to share with a child.
If I were given the choice to choose one book, I would choose this one.