As Fats has announced here, we are devoting our Saturdays to Cybils finalists for 2013, as well as titles that got away but were nominated for 2013. This is in connection with my being one of the Second Round Judges for the Fiction Picture Book Category. We are not just limiting our reviews though to fiction picture books but across all genre nominated or shortlisted this 2013. We have also done something quite similar last year for January-February 2013 when we had our Crazy Over Cybils bimonthly theme.
This week I am sharing a title that got away: nominated for fiction picture books but not shortlisted in the top seven.
From the first full page spread, I was already in awe of this book.
“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 grand-daughter I’ve only heard about.”
The little girl chose a box that turned out to be her great-grandfather’s matchbox diary. The stories found in the “diary” are not told in words, nor are they painted in vivid images like the one you see above. Since Great-Grandfather was unable to read nor write, he thought of a way of preserving life events by collecting bits and pieces that would remind him of a particular time and keeping them safely in matchboxes. And this ‘diary’ told the story of how his family traveled from Italy to America.
The memory fragments were captured through little things like an olive pit that reminded him of hunger back when he was still living in Italy;
or a folded faded monochrome photograph of his father who, at the time, was working in America, struggling to find a way to bring his entire family with him; a macaroni that reminded him of his own grandmother – this particular scene tugged at my heartstrings, as do the rest of this beautifully created book.
The artwork complement the narrative beautifully – the memories are portrayed in sepia-toned or monochrome, which reminded me of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.
The present scenes between the Great-Grandfather and the young girl are in full color.
The images burst with so much aliveness, as can be seen in the image above: the slight feeling of tentativeness, the emerging sense of familiarity where before there was only strangeness, the comforting hand around the girl’s shoulder, the meaningful exchange of gazes.
This book speaks of tearful reunions, separations marked by prophecies shouted in desperation on the streets of Italy, the little pleasures derived from baseball games, the sense of isolation immigrants feel during their first few years in a new country, and the cruelty of people unable to accept anyone different from them.
This is truly a gem of a book. Not since The Arrival have I been so moved by a picture book of this theme. Find it. Embrace it. Read it aloud. It could be life-changing.
The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Candlewick Press, 2013. Book borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.