The Matchbox Diary
Written by: Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by: Bagram Ibatoulline
Published: Candlewick Press 2013
I stumbled upon this book while looking for the Sidewalk Circus at the library one day. I was drawn to the beautiful illustration on the cover and as intrigued as it looked like a sentimental book that I would like to read. Without even looking to see what the book was about, I picked it up and checked it out. I was not disappointed as I loved everything about the book.
The Matchbox Diary is about a young kindergarten girl meeting her great-grandfather for the first time. He collects many things and as the book starts he tells his great-granddaughter to "pick whatever you like the most. Then I'll you its story." She picks an old cigar box and it it are little matchboxes that he has used to keep a diary. He used this a way to remember his past. He grew up in Italy and could not read or write so the matchbox diary kept pieces of his past to remind him of his journey in Italy, his immigration to America, and his life after he arrived. Sitting down they go through the matchboxes and he tells her all about his past.
The story is a wonderful story of a grandfather sharing a story with his great granddaughter but more a story of his immigration and how he overcame many obstacles. The entire book is written in dialogue form with mostly the grandfather telling about each item in the matchboxes and his great-granddaughter asking questions. Each page turn brings a new matchbox and a new story starter in the matchbox such as a box full of sunflower seed shells that were used to recall his trip from Italy. He says "That trip from Italy took nineteen days. I know because I put a sunflower seed shell in this box every morning." He goes on to describe when he got to the statue of Liberty and got off at Ellis Island and almost was not let in to the country. This story is very intriguing and I found it very interesting to read. As I read it though I thought to myself that it could be very hard for a young child to read and understand with it being written in dialogue but it would be great to use as a read aloud and for upper elementary children. Fleischman describes how he come up with the idea for this story by meeting with an artist friend who shared his matchbox journal with him and it gave him something to ponder for 2 decades before he finally wrote The Matchbox Diary. You can read more from Fleischman and get great teaching ideas for the book at Candlewick Press.
Not only does the words and the amazing dialogue that Fleischman creates throw you back in time and help you to really understand the man's journey but the illustrations created by Ibatoulline are breathtaking. I looked it up to see what type of medium used and it seems as Ibatoulline used acrylic gouache paintings. These paintings have such detail that they almost look like photographs. The illustrator starts out with full bleed pages in warm colors as seen in this illustration.
This creates a since of the present time but makes it also feel somewhat nostalgic because of the coloring. It is very inviting and comforting. Ibatoulline also uses framing and a sepia color to make the switch into the past when the grandfather is describing his different memories. This is done so well that it really does make the book look as though there are real photographs and that you are looking through a photo book of he mans life.
The story ends simply with a picture of the little girl on what seems to be a plane and she has a chocolate box. The chocolate box is empty except for two little mementos. I love how this leaves it to be imagined that the little girl is going to create her own diary in the chocolate box and she too one day will have a great story of her life to share with her grandchildren. In a world where everything is on computers it makes me happy to see that you can still do things as people did long ago and for her to be carrying on a tradition or maybe its just because I am so nostalgic and love traditions and passing down things from one generation to the next.