At the last Scholastic Book Fair, my daughter coveted a hot pink cat diary. She bought it with her own money.

She amazes me by diligently filling in her schedule on the calendar and filling in her “contacts” in the address book. It did backfire when we wanted to change a family movie night that she noted in her calendar (we kept the date).

Then I recently read the most charming book, the Red Clover award nominee The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman. My daughter and I loved this story of a great-grandfather sharing his diary – a collection of objects from his journeys that he saved in matchboxes he found – for many reasons:The Matchbox Diary

  1. As immigrants, the one thing he and his parents wanted was for him to learn to read and to write and to teach his family. Initially, the objects were the only way to document his story. Reading opened doors otherwise unavailable.
  2. I love museums, and I love the stories that objects tell about their owner’s lives. The objects in the story were completely foreign to my six year old – a typesetter’s letter block, newspaper headlines, a cigar box, a buttonhook. Talking about these objects and how the boy and his family used them really made my daughter stop and think about the past and present.
  3. We talked about gratitude. She had just finished an immigration unit in school, but the text and illustrations (by Bagram Ibatoulline) helped her empathize with the boy. She understood how scary, lonesome and plain hard his experience was, particularly when we compared it to how we live. We all have much to be thankful for, but we often need a reminder.

In China, a new museum opens every day. More and more stuff becomes obsolete as our lives become more digitized. At this time of year, parents bemoan the stuff, and it is hard to imagine what we have will that will be worthy of preservation and how we will save our life stories in the future. Maybe that little cat diary was a more thoughtful choice than I originally thought.


Top photo by Paul Morris via Flickr / Creative Commons. Image of The Matchbox Diary via Candlewick Press.

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