The Matchbox Diary is Paul Fleischman’s lovely story about preserving memories and holding on to them. A little girl visits her great grandfather and learns of his matchbox collection – each little compartment holds a special item – something from the past. As each box is opened, a life story unfolds: the olive pit a memory of childhood in Italy, a hairpin summons up the voyage to America. This is a gentle story, and the lovely artwork by Bagram Ibatoulline is just perfect. I’m setting this book aside as a mentor text idea for our memoir unit next year – especially when we discuss how items we cherish are wonderful storehouses for memoir ideas.
I’m a big fan of Louisa May Alcott – for her writing, and also for her committed service during the Civil War. I’m also a big fan of Kathleen Krull, who writes such an amazing variety of picture books. So, it was a home run to discover Krull’s Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War led to Little Women. Alcott leaves her abolitionist family in New England to journey to Washington DC, where she hopes to put her principles to the test serving the wounded soldiers who arrive by the hundreds. She works so hard that she almost succumbs to exhaustion and disease herself – and what she learns in those months of endless nursing, she transforms into the stories of Jo, and Marmee, and all the rest of the beloved characters who people Little Women and the books that followed.
I also chanced upon Shirley Hughes’ wonderful chapter book: Hero on a Bicycle. Set in wartime Florence of 1944, this is the story of 13-year old Paolo Crivelli, whose world has been turned upside down the Nazi occupation of his beloved city, and his father’s mysterious disappearance. Paolo is fascinated by the rumored activities of the partisans, and nothing would make him happier than to join their group and take part in brave escapades. On one of his forays in search of such excitement, he finds himself in the midst of more intrigue than he was prepared for, and Hughes deftly takes us along as Paolo and everyone else in his town becomes entangled in one dangerous mission after another. This is an unusual angle through which to see the war – most of the books in my historical fiction library about World War II takes place in the U.S., or Germany or England – and I learned a great deal about the partisans and the Italian experience during this time. Hughes is a wonderful story teller, so I read the book in one sitting. A wonderful read!!! There is also a marvelous website that Hughes has created just for this book – with maps, background information and videos of herself explaining the writing process, and how this story was one she was just waiting for the right time to tell.
For those of you who have young children or teach young children (or both!), Hughes’ picture books are a must have. My own kids grew up on on Alfie, Annie Rose, and a whole host of enchanting characters who were brought to life so memorably in Hughes picture books, books such as these:
My 21-year old son still remembers his favorite page – this one, where the intrepid Alfie, locked into his house, is gently talked into saving the day by his sensible, calm and collected Mum:
Finally, I read Paul Acampora’s Defining Dulcie. The book jacket blurb intrigued me:
Following the accidental death of her father, Dulcie Morrigan Jones is taken to California by a mom who decides that she and her daughter should move away from Connecticut to reinvent themselves. But Dulcie doesn’t think she needs reinventing. Dulcie’s solution? She steals her dead dad’s Chevy pickup truck and heads back home to Connecticut. There, under the supervision of a larger than life grandfather, she meets Roxanne Soule, a girl whose scary home life makes Dulcie realize that her own situation might not be so bad. And luckily for Roxanne, Dulcie Morrigan Jones is a girl with a storehouse of strength and generosity of spirit that stretches on for miles.
Especially this tag line:
“Defining Dulcie is about the connections we make, the resilience of the human spirit, and the absurdities that keep life interesting.”
Who could resist that?! And I was not disappointed – not in the least because Dulcie IS strong, funny and filled with both spunk and integrity, as is her best friend Roxanne. These are exactly the kind of characters I want my sixth graders (especially my girls) to read about.