Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary

Paul Fleischman
Illustrator:   Bagram Ibatoulline 
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2016   ISBN: 978-0763676384

One day a girl goes to visit her great-grandfather. She explores a room is his home, a room that is full of interesting objects such as an old phonograph, a vintage sewing machine, and lots of boxes of all kinds. The old man invites the girl to pick something, the object she likes most, and then he will tell her its story.

The little girl picks an old cigar box and when she opens it she sees that it is full of old match boxes. The girl’s grandfather explains that the boxes served as his diary during the years when he could not read or write. In each box lies a memory and a story that goes with it.

Together they open the first box. In it there is an olive pit. When the old man was a child he lived in a rustic house in Italy and times were hard. The house had few comforts and often the little boy went hungry because there was not enough food to go around. When he said that he was feeling hungry the little boy’s mother would give her son an olive pit to suck on.

In another box there is a photo of a man. The great-grandfather explains that the man was his father who went to America and who sent money home to his family. The photo of his father helped the little boy remember what his father looked like.

Then there is the box that contains a piece of macaroni, which tells the story of how Great-grandfather and his family were forced to leave Italy because the wheat crop failed. When there was no wheat there was no macaroni. The family traveled to the coast and then got on a ship bound for America.

The boxes they open next tell the story of Great-grandfather’s journey. There is a bottle top from the first bottled drink that he had; a hairpin that he found that belonged to one of the rich ladies who were traveling on the upper decks of the ship; a Saint Christopher’s medal which is supposed to protect travelers: and a box full of sunflower seeds. Great-grandfather used the seeds to keep track of how many days the trip from Italy took.

With each box they open a piece of Great-grandfather’s life comes alive and his little great-granddaughter discovers what an extraordinary life her relative has had.

When people share stories from their past with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren they give those children not just a connection with the past, but they also give them the precious gift of a real live story. Sharing stories helps adults to connect with the children in their lives so that they can get to know one another better. In turn, children often discover that the grownups they are related to have done remarkable things, and they come to appreciate that great adventurers can lie in the hearts and memories of rather modest looking packages.

This book is a wonderful tribute to the keepers of memories who use diaries of all kinds to keep their life stories alive so that their memories can be shared for years to come.