Thursday, January 21, 2016

Diversity Via the Lens of Immigrants and Poverty- Part 2 by Kathy Halsey

On Monday, I discussed Cynthia Lord's great middle grade book, A HANDFUL OF STARS and today I share thoughts on THE MATCHBOX DIARY, a picture book, by Paul Fleischman. But first, some food for thought from our new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Gene Luan Yang. Gene's platform for his two year term is "Reading Without Walls." 

"Reading breaks down the walls that divide us. By reading, we get to know people outside of our own communities. We gain knowledge others don't expect us to have. We discover new and surprising passions. Reading is critical to our growth, both as individuals and as a society." 
Gene Luan Yang

  • The immigrant experience is known to most of us via our grandparents or family history, yet it is a flashpoint in politics today. Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman's poignant tale uses objects and the love of a great-grandfather and granddaughter to cement the truth of immigration in our minds and hearts. Sepia tone illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline give a historic, photographic quality to the story that takes the reader back in time to a little boy who can neither read nor write, but he can collect and save his personal history from Italy and in America.

Children love collections and boxes, and Fleischman knowingly designs an engaging history lesson from great-grandfather's matchbox collection. The reader learns from the granddaughter's questions and perspective of a life much different than her own just two generations later. 

Great grandfather's life is simply told, but it holds great details of the trials and triumphs of poverty, hard work, and loving family ties still strong today. The first box holds an olive pit that the young boy sucked on when there was little food. Another reveals a fancy hairpin left by a rich woman on the voyage from Naples to America. Still anthers recalls great grandfather's fear of men in New York he nicknamed "buttonhook men." The fear? At Ellis Island, men would use buttonhook handles to roll up children's eyes to inspect for disease. 

The entire family works at canning fish, sorting peaches, peeling shrimp, and more as they traveled to create a life in America. These new arrivals were shunned. As great grandfather tells it while sharing a box with a lone tooth,  "The same people who bought our cans of sardines wouldn't look at us. Back then some people didn't want Italians here. Sometimes boys threw rocks. That's how my tooth got here."   
Successes followed: learning to read around age 10, work as a typesetter, and Finally opening a bookshop. Through it all, collections grew. 

In the final full spread, the granddaughter and great grandfather converse: 
"I wish I could write a diary." 
"Do you go to school yet?"
"To kindergarten."
"Lucky girl. You'll be writing before you know it. 'Till then, I'll bet you're a good collector, like me."
Our final illustration shows the pre-schooler back on a plane, a matchbox in her lap beginning her collection. It is priceless, so go get this book and enjoy the journey of this book yourself and read it to a special someone. Read without walls.
(A few links:  for teachers , and a video.)


  1. This book sounds wonderful, Kathy. I can't wait to read it myself. Paul Fleischman is a powerful writer. I once had the honor to escort him to a women's prison, where the inmates had read his book, Seedfolks, and had planted a community garden, which is central to this novel. A diminutive a quiet man, he connected immediately with these women. Absolutely amazing to witness. If you're interested, here is an article about his visit.

    1. Patty, TY for taking time to comment on your BIRTHDAY. I would don't be surprised at his connection to the women. I will read the article.

    2. Kathy - thanks, first of all!
      Patty, Wow! Fern's news article on the prison visit is powerful - especially at the end with the non-reader. I was impressed that the First Lady of the state had also selected the wonderful book, SEEDFOLKS & visited. Curious if you were there as book provider, escort to First Lady or ... ?

  2. I have this book; it's one of my favorites. Poignant. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Tender and a great message to all Americans - we've all come to look for America, Tina!

    2. You are right Kathy & Tina, a poignant & tender book.
      So pleased to find it here. And at this time in our Nation.

  3. I love this book - it was a favorite from the first read! So happy to see it shared on your blog!

  4. I'm going to check this out of our local library, Kathy. . .thanks for the review!

    1. Jarm, love that you are reading this and I always think of you at Downton Abby time on Sundays.

  5. Appreciations for finding the new Ambassador's talk to share, Kathy.
    For anyone who missed it Group Blog also featured thoughts about Mr.
    Yang on Jan. 13, 2016 -