Books Picture Books Reading Themes Saturday Cybils

[Saturday Cybils] The Matchbox Diary

The CYBILS logo was downloaded from the CYBILS official website.
The CYBILS logo was downloaded from the CYBILS official website.

Myra here.

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.

*** Video ads other readers may find at the bottom of this post are NOT endorsed by GatheringBooks but are randomly included by WordPress to maintain their site. ***

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

8 comments on “[Saturday Cybils] The Matchbox Diary

  1. Fats Suela

    The page with the matchbox illustration is a beauty in and of itself. =)


  2. This does look lovely. I had had my first Cybils party — I got six of the picture books and read them with my nephew (the library still has one on order). Then he picked his favorite, but he assured me they were all good. So you have at least one satisfied customer!


  3. This is one of my favorites of 2013 for sure. Seems like it is not getting quite the attention it deserves. The art is incredible. My son cheers whenever I find a new to us Iboutilline-illustrated book at the library. Thanks for sharing this book today. After seeing the photos, I am sure other readers will want to read it.


  4. I need to get this book – it looks wonderful! 😀


  5. Pingback: Sunday Salon: Weekly Links 1/12/14 | the dirigible plum

  6. Myra, this book looks absolutely stunning, and I love the premise 🙂 Thanks for calling it to our attention. Seeing if my library carries it!


  7. Myra, I came to this post over a year after you posted it, so it must’ve been on a search I did through some of your old blog posts—can’t remember, BUT—I


  8. …LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH!!! Not only are the illustrations STUNNING,but the story is so rich and moving. The fact that I’m also of Italian heritage just adds another measure of sentiment. Thank you so much for posting this. I intend to purchase it as a book for the whole family! 😀


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