The Matchbox Diary

“The Matchbox Diary,” by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline; Candlewick Press, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 5-9. 

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MATCHBOX DIARYText copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman (Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices) and acclaimed illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline (Thumbelina; The Nightengale) have crafted a tale about an Italian immigrant’s journey to America that also incorporates a love of collecting.

The book begins with an elderly gentleman meeting his great-grand daughter. As a way to get to know each other, the man tells the girl to choose a book, antiques or other collectible, and he will share the story behind that item’s existence. Tucked away in the midst of these beloved curios, the child chooses a weathered cigar-box.  Much like  a Russian matryoshka, the box opens to reveal dozens of matchboxes.  They, in turn, hold a small souvenir – an olive pit, a fishbone, pieces of lead type – that recall pivotal moments in the man’s life.  This diary is full of tangible objects that recall memories from long ago, while also encouraging the two characters to get to know each other. 

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MATCHBOX DIARYText copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Using acrylic gouache, Ibatoulline creates an impeccable portrait of a collector’s controlled chaos, with old books, artwork, antique clocks and other bric-a-brac filling every shelf, corner and wall.  The images of the past are skillfully  rendered in black and white.

Told entirely through dialogue, The Matchbox Diary is an ode to collectors and diarists of all ages, and certainly stokes the flame of bibliomania. As the story concludes, the worldly grandfather offers this reflection, one that will no doubt resonate with the readers of this blog: “Books are like newspapers. They show you where you’ve been.” 

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