The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
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.