The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

the matchbox diaryA young girl visits her great-grandfather for the first time ever.  The girl looks around the room – full of books, boxes, collections, photos, antiques.  The great-grandfather says,

Pick whatever you like the most.  Then I’ll tell you its story.

The girl brings the old man a cigar box full of matchboxes.  The old man tells her the box is full of stories – that it is his diary.

When the girl asks what a diary is, the old man replies:

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.

Each matchbox contains a small object that holds a memory for the old man.  He shares them with the girl.

The first matchbox has an olive pit.  The old man tells of when he was a child in Italy and his family was terribly poor.  His mother would give him an olive pit to suck on when he was hungry if the didn’t have enough food.

One matchbox has a ticket to his first baseball game – in the United States – that he went to with his father.  Another matchbox has printer’s letters – and the old man tells about learning typesetting and working with a printing press.

The final picture shows the girl in a seat on an airplane, putting two objects into compartments in an empty chocolates (or something like that) box – one of them is a printer’s letter.

Through saved objects and stories from memories, readers learn about the life of the old man – from a poor boy in Italy, to traveling to the United State on a ship, to Ellis Island, to time as a migrant worker, to learning to read and write, to learning printing as a trade, and owning a bookshop.

This is a book with a sense of mystery and of history.  It is also a story of a great-grandfather and great-granddaughter getting to know each other.



  1. Julie Grasso on September 20, 2013 at 12:36 am

    This sounds wonderful. What a wonderful premise. I think I would probably cry during it though, lol. Thanks so much for bringing this lovely book to our attention on the Kid Lit Blog Hop

    • bookwormbear on October 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks for visiting from the Kid Lit Blog Hop. This is a special sharing of life stories, and a wonderful way for the great-grandfather to get to know his great-granddaughter (and the other way around, too.) I’ll admit to some misty eyes while reading it. 🙂

  2. Stacie Theis on September 20, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    This sounds like a great story and I think my daughter would really enjoy it. I like the idea of the granddaughter taking the time to get to know her grandfather. It’s a lesson to us all. Thanks for sharing this on the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

    • bookwormbear on October 4, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. I love the objects and the stories that go with them – and the sharing of stories between the generations (and the getting to know each other).

  3. Jaymie Shook on September 23, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Wow, this one sounds exceptional! My toddler has been fortunate enough to meet his great-great-grandmother twice so far in his young life. I will certainly buy this book and bring it to her to read to him next time he sees her! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. bookwormbear on October 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    This one is a good one. My children never met their great-grandparents, so they’ve missed all of those stories from a completely different generation. I hope you enjoy the book! Thanks for stopping by.

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