The Matchbox Diary takes readers on a journey through one man’s life. This man tells his great-granddaughter to choose one item in the room, and he’ll tell her a story about it. The girl chooses an old cigar box full of matchboxes. But there are no matches in these boxes. Each box carries a memory of her great-grandfather’s life, from his earliest days in Italy, through his family’s journey across the sea to Ellis Island, to their lives as Italian immigrants in an often unfriendly new world. Though he couldn’t read or write (at first), these matchboxes allowed this man to keep his memories alive to share with future generations.
The narrative of this book is presented entirely through dialog, which might make it a poor choice for read-alouds, especially with younger readers who have very little background knowledge of immigration. That being said, I think this would be an excellent addition in older grades’ studies of immigration, how families were often split up for a while, the long journey to America, and what immigrants encountered once they arrived.
The true strength of The Matchbox Diary, in my opinion, is in the illustrations. While the narrative seems a bit choppy at times, the gorgeous, detailed illustrations make the grandfather’s stories come alive. I expect no less from Bagram Ibatoulline, and he definitely delivers in this book.