Wednesday 3 April 2013

The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Walker Books)
HB RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781406343779
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Newbery Medalist, Paul Fleishman is back with another impressive publication. The incredible beauty of this new book on the migrant experience is overwhelming. Its outstanding and detailed illustrations in acrylic gouache that accompany the emotive text, alternate between full colour and demure shades of black, brown and ochre, and visually express the struggle that formed migrant lives in the early migratory years. Reminiscent of Susanne Gervay’s Ships in the Field, The Matchbox Diary is a must for collectors of extraordinary picture books.

Great-grandfather is a collector of memories. “Pick whatever you like the most, and I will tell you its story”, he tells his great-granddaughter as she looks at all the items that decorate his home. She chooses a cigar box filled with matchboxes. Unable to read or write when he set out from Italy to America as a child, he diarised his life in these discarded matchboxes.

There was the olive pit that his mother gave him to suck when he was hungry and there was no food to eat. The folded photograph of his father helped him to remember what father looked like after he migrated to America and they waited for him to send for the rest of the family. A nib of a pen, reminded him of the schoolmaster’s son who read them his father’s letters; letters that were written for him by someone else.

 A piece of macaroni was the memory of the year there was no rain, so there was no macaroni. That was the year the tickets came for the family to sail to America at last. A lady’s decorative hair pin brought to mind the journey on the ship. The pin had fallen down from the upper deck where the rich people stood and looked out at the horizon. These and more, made up the valuable diary that documented his life for his progeny to learn about.

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