When I first read today’s Perfect Picture Book, I was reminded of a journey I shared with my daughters when they were quite young. To help them remember favorite places and to help pass the time on long train rides, I brought along sketch books and encouraged them to record what they saw. As one of my daughters is celebrating her birthday today, I thought it was a perfect day to share today’s Perfect Picture Book.
Title: The Matchbox Diary
Written By: Paul Fleischman
Illustrated By: Bagram Ibatoulline
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: diary; immigration; intergenerational; family history
“Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”
“There’s so many things here.”
“You’ll know when you see it. And then I’ll know something about you. The great-granddaughter I’ve only heard about.”
Brief Synopsis: A young girl discovers her great-grandfather’s matchbox diary, and she learns the history of his journey to America and first years in the country.
Links to Resources:
- Keep a diary, either by writing entries each day or week, or drawing pictures of noteworthy events;
- Do you collect anything? What do you collect? How do you store your collection?
- The great-grandfather in the story journeyed from Italy to Ellis Island, in America. Discover more about these places;
- View a YouTube video of Fleischman’s Matchbox Theatres and try making your own;
- For more ideas, see the Teachers’ Guide.
Why I Like this Book:
The Matchbox Diary reads like an afternoon visit with an older relative. Told all in dialogue, the story has an immediacy which I think will resonate with kids. As the unnamed great-granddaughter opens each matchbox, she, and the reader, hear the great-grandfather share his journey to America and his difficult early life in his adopted homeland, including the jobs the entire family did, like canning fish, sorting peaches, shelling peas, peeling shrimp, opening oyster shells, rolling cigars, and “shelling nuts for restaurants, day and night.” I think this will be eye-opening to kids today!
I love how this story unfolds as the contents of each tiny box is revealed. And I love how the great-grandfather relates diary writing to collecting keepsakes, something even young children can do. That learning to read and keeping newspaper scraps with dates is important to the great-grandfather is an important lesson, too, as I think it will show kids the importance of reading.
Ibatoulline’s sepia-toned illustrations with their many details are the perfect accompaniment to the text, as they evoke the past and show the importance of even tiny items in our lives.
A Note about Craft:
In the Teachers’ Guide, Fleischman notes that he first conceived of the idea of a matchbox diary from an illustrator friend. Although he knew immediately that he wanted to write a story about this form of diary-keeping, it took him 15 years to publish the story. Good ideas certainly are worth waiting for!
The matchboxes at the heart of the story are very kid-relatable items. Although kids today may not see matchboxes often, their small size and ability to be repurposed as treasure boxes will resonate with kids, I think.
As noted above, Fleischman relates this tale entirely in unattributed dialogue. I think this draws the reader into the story and makes the slow-moving action more immediate and engaging for kids.
Visit Newbery-winner Fleischman’s website to see more of his books, including Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, which I reviewed in March 2017.
Visit Ibatoulline’s website to view more of his illustrations.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!
Another unique immigration story. I love the clever ways authors find to tell stories. Matchboxes are a great medium because it emphasizes how little immigrants carried with them. Lovely pick!
Great observation – matchboxes are a helpful reminder of the few things immigrants can carry. Thanks!
What a terrific format/framework to tell an immigration story. And there are so many ways this can be used in the classroom.
I agree. Even for young, non-readers who want to keep a diary.
The matchbook diary structure of this story sounds super compelling. I can’t wait to check it out. Thanks!
I agree – this is a super way to think about keepsakes & creating a diary.
This sounds intriguing, both the story and the unattributed dialogue. I look forward to getting a chance to really examine this book. Thanks.
Although the word count is higher than many picture books these days, the structure is so unique & well-done. This is a great mentor text for this format.
I’ve read this beautiful book and admire how the author told great-grandfather’s story in such a unique way – not letters, photo albums, or postcards. Thanks for reminding me of it. I want to reread it now.
Love it when a blog post spurs a reading or rereading! Thanks for stopping by!
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