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Book Review: The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary is a story of intergenerational sharing that occurs when a little girl meets her great-grandfather for the first time. In a house filled with old and interesting things, great-grandfather invites her to select an object and he’ll tell her its story. A cigar box filled with tiny matchboxes grabs her attention.

Each matchbox holds a small keepsake that her warm-hearted, hard-working grandfather preserved in his desire to keep a diary before he could read or write. The matchboxes stored moments of hope and struggle, opportunity and setback, sacrifice and reward in this immigrant family’s journey from Italy and their first years in America. The interconnected stories provide an historical context and weave together a family history passed down now to another generation.

The engaging stories coupled with detailed illustrations give readers meaningful moments in the dramatic immigrant experience. This appealing picture book makes a strong case for the importance of story and offers connections across the curriculum. The masterful use of dialogue moves the story along and can readily be used for a reader’s theatre script, a mentor text for writing dialogue, and an examination of voice and tone for delving deeper into setting, plot or character. Students can choose their own memento to trigger a memory that connects their present life to a past experience. The historical references in this picture book act as a springboard for inquiry projects around issues of immigration, literacy, and education. Interviews, traditions, treasures, and storytelling are tools that help us tap into family memories that have been made, stored, revisited and waiting to be shared.


Additional information:

  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • Year Published: 2013
  • Pages: 40
  • Other Works: Bull Run, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

About the Author:

Paul Fleischman is the author of many books for young readers. He is the son of Sid Fleischman, who in 1987 won a Newbery for his novel The Whipping Boy just two years before his son won the Newbury Medal for Joyful Noise.

Companion Books:

Aunt Flossie Hats’ (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard

Two girls spend Sunday afternoons with Great-great-aunt Flossie and learn about her life through the stories connected to her incredible hats.

The Memory String by Eve Bunting

A little girl adjusting to her stepmother finds solace in the memories represented by forth-three beads on a string.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

An immigrant Jewish family preserves the story of the journey from their Russian homeland through their family’s clothing.

Rita Sorrentino profileRita Sorrentino is a recently retired teacher from Overbrook Elementary School in Philadelphia. Rita is finding new pathways for working with teachers and students to use digital tools for reading writing, speaking and listening. She presented ‘Beyond Superheroes: Using Comics Across the Curriculum” at the PETE&C Conference in Hershey in February. Rita joined the Pennsylvania Writing Project in 2004 and the Philadelphia Writing Project in 1994.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. I adore this book! Thanks for sharing your ideas about how to use this fantastic text with us.


    November 22, 2014
  2. Thanks for including the companion books as well. This book is such a great choice for writing teachers, providing much food for thought.


    October 7, 2014
  3. Love this book! It is on the Keystone to Reading Elementary Book Award list for 2014-2015.


    October 6, 2014
  4. Rita,
    Thanks for sharing the companion book list — this is a terrific review — lots of great information.


    October 6, 2014

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