The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

The Matchbox Diary is magical storytelling. Objects hold such appeal to young children. Exploring, finding treasures – it is something every child loves and can relate to. This gorgeously illustrated picture book (illustrations of the present day are in warming hues and those from the past look like sepia photographs) begins with a young girl and her great-grandfather. She can pick any object for him to tell a story about, and she picks the perfect one – his matchbox diary. Before the grandfather could write, he kept a diary of small items inside matchboxes to help him remember his journey from Italy to the United States and the challenges and joys he found in America.

The grandfather’s immigration story simply and powerfully tells common themes found in the stories of immigrants – hunger, being apart from family while money for tickets is saved, dangerous storms, medical inspections at Ellis Island, working in factories, discrimination, and a passionate desire to be educated.

The age range on this book is 6-9, but with the illustrations and gentle, interesting stories to accompany each object, my 4 year old is able to enjoy it as well.

Here are some discussion questions for the story based on the Common Core Reading Literature Standards for grades 1-3. Pick and choose as appropriate.

Questions for The Matchbox Diary

  • Who are the main characters in the story?
  • What was life like for the grandfather when he lived in Italy?
  • Why was the grandfather separated from his father?
  • Why did the grandfather keep a matchbox diary?
  • Describe the trip from Italy to America.
  • What was the grandfather scared of when the family reached Ellis Island?
  • Was life in America how the grandfather expected it to be? Why or why not?
  • Why did the grandfather have a tooth in a box?
  • How would you describe the grandfather’s personality?
  • How did the grandfather learn to read and write?
  • What do the grandfather and granddaughter have in common?
  • What life lessons did the granddaughter learn?
  • What mood do the color of the illustrations create?
  • How does reading this book make you feel? Why?
  • The grandfather tells his granddaughter at the end of the book, “Lucky girl. You’ll be writing before you know it. Till then, I’ll bet you’re a good collector. Like me.”  Do you collect anything? Why do you think collecting is important to many people?