The Matchbox Diary: An “A is for Aging” Book Review

cover                                                                                                                                                          The kindergartner in this tale learns the lore of her family directly from a great-grandparent. My connection to the greats was merely a rainbow blanket crocheted by my great-grandmother. The New York Times reports longevity trends mean four generations of a family are on the rise—some demographers predict a “great-grandparent boom,” but it seems no one is really counting. It is “estimated that by 2030 more than 70 % of 8-year olds will likely have at least one living great-grandparent.” (Read more.)

In The Matchbox Diary by the award winning Paul Fleischman (ages 6-9, Candlewick Press 2013) this young girl and her great-grandfather get acquainted for the first time exploring his home jam-packed with antiques. These are not dusty artifacts of the past, they are momentos with meaning. “Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”

“There’s so many things here.”

“You’ll know when you see it. And then I’ll know something about you. The great- granddaughter I’ve only heard about.” int2

Naturally the tiny boxes draw her eye. Matchboxes make up her great-grandpa’s childhood diary and they’re filled with tokens certain to capture a child’s attention. Items such as shells from nineteen sunflower seeds—one for each day of danger and deprivation on the boat from Italy to America, and one tooth, lost to Italian-hating stone throwers.

Beautiful and realistic illustrations by the acclaimed Bagram Ibatoulline are sepia toned when in the past, and always anchored by the matchbox of the moment—very real and intriguing. Pictures of great-grandfather and great-grandchild together exude warmth and coziness.

Details are sure to delight kids—Great-grandpa’s very first taste of a banana, when he didn’t know to peel it and spat out the nasty mouthful! And just one match box is empty—why…because he ate the candy just a week after tucking it inside.int1 In the end he shares his history of employment—a printer, a bookshop owner, and finally “I bought and sold antiques. Old things that people had saved for years, filled with stories.”

Promoting Inter-generational Connections

washington dc 029Research by Dr. David Duke of Emory University finds that “the single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” Amazingly, his “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

Kids feel a stronger sense of control when they are well-informed on who came before them. His research was affirmed in studying children affected by the tragedies of 9/11. (Read more.) Stories spilled easily from my own mother, and the grandkids frequently teased, “Granma! You’ve told us that one before!” But that never deterred her, not once. We count ourselves lucky for the stories stuck fast in our messy memory banks—as full as mom’s shoe boxes of photos.copenhagen 049

Scrapbooks, baby books, even photo albums fell by the wayside in her busy life, but the tangle of trinkets in her jewelry box prompted shared stories. A cameo brooch splurged on in Italy, the simple silver ring from Denmark, and the name tag from her first job—as an occupational therapist, tending young survivors of polio—before the Salk vaccine. london 2 086

More sadness—her young sister lost to scarlet fever; but Mom’s youthful travel tales glowed–her “successful” treasure hunt one spooky night at the Tower of London wielding a metal divining rod. Her “natural talent” revealed a spiraled scrap of metal, but no jewels. The dashing airline pilot who wined and dined her in Copenhagen (“He just said he was a pilot Granma!”) and the terrifying train mix-up that left her alone in Rome—long before cell phones linked to friends.

london 058I challenge you to record your own family’s narrative. A teacher’s comment on an oral history project with her students led me to questions to get you started—easy to use and based on The Life Story Interview published by Robert Atkinson. He is director of the “Life Story Commons” website of the University of Southern Maine.

He shares:   “Our own life stories can be tools for making us whole; they gather up the parts of us and put them together in a way that gives our lives greater meaning than we had before we told our story.”

Find the questions listed on this resource and gather up the stories—for you, for your grand-kids, AND if you’re so blessed—your great-grandchildren.              

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Images from The Matchbox Diary courtesy of Candlewick Press. Other photos by Paul McDivitt. THE MATCHBOX DIARY. Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Disclosure: I reviewed my own copy of this book. I was not required to write a review and I received no payment for this post.

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2 Responses to The Matchbox Diary: An “A is for Aging” Book Review

  1. P. Cruickshank-Schott says:

    What a pleasure to read this review. I had the wonderful luck to have a great uncle live with my family for several years when I was a child. He smoked a pipe and saved all the wooden matchboxes he used. He and I build all sorts of things with those matchboxes by connecting them together, including tall skyscrapers… Of all my childhood memories, I think this is the most potent, time spent with someone who loved me without reserve and it became core to who I am as a creative person. I still love matchboxes and often used them in workshops I taught. I have no children or grandchildren… I have to think about how to pass on this legacy…

    Also your resources are always very helpful. I often interview older members of my community and publish these oral histories in the village newsletter. I will make good use of the questions for the Life Story Interview…

    Thank you, Lindsey

    • lindseymcd says:

      It’s wonderful to hear your of your warm memories of times with your great uncle–I think the “extended greats” in families are often unrecognized influences on young children. They certainly were special to my own children. How fascinating that matchboxes were a link between you and your great uncle, as in this story! And I’d love to learn how you used them in workshops…I think I’ll need to go back again to your fabulous Pinterest pages Patty. Your creativity is most certainly evident there, and I hope you will find a way to pass on your legacy.Thanks so much for your comment!

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