My grandmother had a china cabinet and buffet filled with, what to my young eyes, were treasures. Each of those treasures had a story, I made her tell me those stories over and over. I learned a lot about my grandparents, but also about my mother’s huge extended family. So I was primed from an early age to love The Matchbox Diary by Peter Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.
A young girl is visiting her great-grandfather. Like my grandmother, the great-grandfather has a room filled with treasures, his favorite is a cigar box containing with little matchboxes or as he explains it to his great-granddaughter, his diary. Each box contains an item which brings back a memory and a story about his life. On one side of the page we see the matchbox and its contents and the facing page is a scene from the great-grandfather’s life. Born in Italy, where sometimes there was not enough to eat is represented by an olive pit. Something his mother gave him to suck on when he was hungry and there was not enough to eat. In another box was a picture of his father who had gone to America in search of a better life. Other boxes contain items like a bottle cap that detail his voyage with his mother and sister to America to join his father. The story goes continues with datelines from newspapers from all over the country as the family traveled to find work. After a time, the family settles down and the boy can go to school and trains to be a printer and to eventually own a bookshop. Perhaps this book will inspire a reader to ask questions about an older relative’s life.