Richie's Picks: THE MATCHBOX DIARY
Richie's Picks: THE MATCHBOX DIARY by Paul Fleischman and Bagram Ibatoulline, ill., Candlewick, March 2013, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-7636-4601-1
The first one I thought of was a seashell, either one of those blue-grayish or sometimes rose-colored scallop shells, or else one of those little golden, almost-translucent jingle shells. If there is something that is special and memorable about growing up on Long Island, it is having those great beaches just a few miles away in each direction. No matter how long I'm away from there, I can readily conjure up the smells, sounds, and feeling of being on those beaches or bobbing around out in the water. A seashell would be my first artifact.
A half-inch copper elbow is another one that immediately comes to mind. Growing up doing plumbing on my parents construction sites is a really significant part of who I was as a kid. Including a plumbing fitting would be a must.
Buried somewhere in a box of stuff, I still have some badges from Boy Scouts. Without those years in Scouting, I would still likely have become an advocate for the environment. But I never would have known how much pleasure comes from being deep in the woods or up on mountain tops, far away from suburbia. I wouldn't have known that saying about leaving it better than you found it. And I was just talking to my housemates the other day about how my time spent as an instructor in BSA's Junior Leader Training Conference was my first time as a teacher. This gave me a hint of how interesting and fun teaching could be. I'd include a Boy Scout artifact.
Then I think of my 33 years of raising Nubian goats. Do I use a photo of a favorite doe from years ago? Or one of my old advertisements cut out of the Dairy Goat Journal? Or perhaps just an old, dried, rock-hard goat berry? (How many tons of those did I shovel in 33 years?)
Such were my thoughts the other day as I drove around doing errands after reading THE MATCHBOX DIARY.
You see, one of the two characters in this stunning picture book is an elderly man who began collecting objects in little matchboxes a young boy on his way to America. Each object relates to something significant in the old man's earlier life.
The other character in the story is the old man's great-granddaughter who has just met him for the first time in her life.
In a tale told entirely in dialogue between these two characters, the old man digs into these matchboxes and shares his past with the young girl object by object. The accompanying illustrations, done in acrylic gouache, alternate between the color-filled scenes of present day and illustrations that are reminiscent of those old brownish photographs I remember from my grandparents' houses.
I've just thought of another: I should include one of those well-worn poems on index cards that I collected from poetry collections in the library and always kept in a file box next to me at circle time at the childcare center. Perhaps I'd pick one with a favorite Karla Kuskin or Myra Cohn Livingston poem. That would be a good artifact to represent those years of working with young children at the Center.
"'We were headed for Ellis Island, in New York. Someone told me that men would stick buttonhooks in our eyes there.'"
THE MATCHBOX DIARY is very much an immigrant story. In listening to him go through those artifact-filled matchboxes with his great-granddaughter, we learn that the old man was born in Italy, came to America as a child with his mother and sisters -- his father having already made the voyage in order to earn money to send for his family -- and that the young boy immediately went to work with the rest of his family.
He took some hard knocks as an immigrant kid amidst not-always-friendly peers. But he eventually had the opportunity to go to school, learn to read and write, and pursued a career. Now, in having shared his story with her, he suggests that maybe she is a collector too.
So what would you put in your matchboxes?
Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/ http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/partingtonr/partingtonr.php