I love made-up stories about worlds and people that can only exist in our imaginations. But I love real stories, too. Real stories about real people – especially people I know and admire.

The Matchbox Diary is a picture book, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, which tells the story of a little girl meeting her great-grandfather for the first time. As they look together through his collection of matchboxes that are filled with small treasures, she learns the tale of his immigration to the United States. As a little boy who couldn’t read or write, he still yearned to document his life in a diary. Rather than using the written word, he chose to collect small objects that would remind him of pivotal moments in his life, keeping these objects in matchboxes he found. For instance, the matchbox containing 19 sunflower seed shells reminds him of the difficult 19 day journey on the boat to Ellis Island. His favorite matchbox contains a ticket stub from the first baseball game with his father.

This book is filled with detailed life-like illustrations that along with the text tell a story of immigration, of determination, the importance of literacy, and of love. I think it would be best for ages 5 and up as a starting point for learning about family history and the importance of telling our own tales. The holidays are often a time for multiple generations to socialize. Take the time to make sure your children learn about the generations before them. A Christmas ornament handed down, a toy from your childhood, an old photo, even a favorite holiday food. All these can be starting points for a story.

Then have your child pick an object meaningful to her. Encourage her to tell her own story. Not only will the two of you learn about each other, but your child will also learn important literacy skills. Effective communication, a skill necessary for life, is basically the ability to tell a story well. Confidence in communication comes with practice. Telling her own stories will give a child the ability to verbalize her thoughts and feelings.

Stories teach us – allow us a glimpse into another person’s heart – inspire us to grow – remind us that we are all imperfect. Let’s take time to learn each other’s stories.

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