cover image The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary

Paul Fleischman, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4601-1

If you can’t read or write, how do you remember the important moments of your life? An elderly man explains to his great-granddaughter that he created a diary of objects, each saved in a matchbox. One matchbox holds an olive pit from his native Italy, given to him by his mother to suck on when the family had no food. A fish bone reminds him of grueling work in canneries (“always a man watching to make sure we weren’t slowing down”). But there are also matchboxes that hold a ticket to a baseball game, as well as pieces of coal and moveable type that represent how the man finally achieved literacy and a comfortable life. Fleischman’s voice for the girl’s great-grandfather is instantly engrossing, free of self-pity and resonant with resilience and gratitude. Ibatoulline, who previously worked with Fleischman on The Animal Hedge, is in equally fine form: his characters’ emotionally vivid faces speak of hard lives and fervent dreams, and his sepia-toned scenes never lapse into sentimentality. A powerful introduction to the American immigrant story, and fine inspiration for a classroom project. Ages 6–10. Illustrator’s agent: Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. (Mar.)