The Matchbox Diary

Author:  Paul Fleischman
Illustrator:  Bagram Ibatoulline

DSC_5135The magical wonder of a story is not always confined to the pages of a book.  When the little girl in our story visits her great-grandfather for the first time, she shyly looks around his home.  Leaning on his cane, he tells her,  “Pick whatever you like most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”  She spies an old cigar box,  peeks inside, but is puzzled t0 find it filled with dozens of colorful little matchboxes.

“What’s in the little boxes?”

“My diary.”

“What’s a diary?”

“A way to remember what happens to  you. Usually it’s a book people write in. When I was your age, I had a lot I wanted to remember but I couldn’t read or write. So I started this. Open the first one.”

And the adventure of The Matchbox Diary begins to unfold.  One by one, she slides the matchboxes open, wondering what story could possibly be behind an old olive pit, a faded photograph, or empty sunflower seeds.  As she listens, her great-grandfather’s life slowly comes to life before her. She hears of the harshness of his childhood, the constant hunger, and that sucking on an olive pit from his mother often helped the ache. She learned that the mustached man in the photo was her great-grandfather’s Italian papa,  working hard in America to save money to bring his family over from Italy. And the empty sunflower seeds? Well, there were exactly 19 of those – one for each day that it had taken for her great-grandfather and the rest of his family to sail to America to join his Papa when at last they were able.

Turning each page of this book is like sliding open another matchbox and hearing another chapter of this little girl’s heritage.  Some of the matchboxes will warm your heart and bring a smile, others may cause you to reflect in sadness.  Yet, our great-grandfather, and his young listener, have bonded, and both have an inner spirit that is sure to keep them carrying on family traditions for many years to come.

Not only is this story sure to become a family favorite, but the gorgeously detailed illustrations are reason enough to purchase this book.  It is captivating!

Mary Byrne Kline

1.  What is the purpose of a diary?

2.  What did great-grandfather mean when he said the quarter he found in the grass “seemed like one of the lumps of gold people said we’d find”?

3.  Can you find examples to show that great-grandfather wanted to learn to read as a young boy?

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