Review Blog

Jul 09 2013

The matchbox diary by Paul Fleischman

cover image

Ill. by Bacham Ibatouline. Candlewick Press, 2013. ISBN 0 7636 4601 1.
(Age: 5+) Warmly recommended. Picture book. Immigration. With a finely detailed illustrative technique, Ibatouline enhances the story of one man's journey to the United States of America. With his family he left impoverished Italy, going to join their father in the USA, who had gone ahead. They wanted to provide opportunities for their children, opportunities they would not have had staying in Italy. His story is retold to his granddaughter, but not through a diary but through the match boxes, each of which has an object inside which elicits a story from the old man. Unable to read or write he collected objects from his old life, his journey, his home in the USA and his eventual success. Inside the old cigar box are dozens of match boxes, each with a story to tell.
We hear of the olive pip, given by his mother to suck to alleviate the hunger pains in the children. A small brooch fell from the upper deck on the ship bound to Ellis Island, and this was kept to remind him of the voyage with its separation of rich and poor. In another is a ticket to a baseball game, a sport they did not understand at first, but went along to better fit themselves for their new life. A tale is told of suffering, of privation, of finding a home and success in their new home. With hints of prejudice, the family succeeds.
The almost monochrome illustrations cover the pages, drawing the eye to the amazing amount of detail, and supporting the text beautifully, colour coming into the pages when the man is with his granddaughter, passing on the family stories to her.
The setting of the USA and its post war migration is a different slant on the theme of new arrivals and one which will find a home in schools where migration, immigration and new arrivals is a topic to be discussed. The pages where prejudice is shown to the family will resonate with many who have left their home to come to a new land, and will too be a discussion point in classrooms. The award winning author and artist duo have produced a book which will be picked up by students in the library and taken to classes where these themes are discussed.
Fran Knight

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