From Publisher’s Weekly, week of December 24, 2012.
The Matchbox Diary
by Paul Fleischman, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline
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 has 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.