This 2005 Newberry Winner has definitely been on the radar of great children’s books for a while. I picked it up during one of my quieter shifts at the library and have been reading it pretty steadily.
Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Genniger Choldenko tells the story of Moose Flanagan and his family as they move from Southern California to Alcatraz Island, circa 1935. Al Capone is the big fish in the prison cell along with Roy Gardner and Machine Gun Kelly, and Moose’s dad is now working double duty as a prison guard and technician. But, living on the same island as the nation’s worst criminals is not Moose’s biggest problem. He’s the younger brother of an autistic sister, Natalie, who is constantly under his watch and care. There is also Piper Williams, the warden’s daughter. Between looking out for his sister and struggling to make friends and find a sense of normalcy in his life, Moose has his hands full.
What I like about this book is that the kids are very much real. They are the kids at 12-13 years old, struggling to make friends, and be cool. Piper is full of get-rich schemes, from charging the students at their school 5 cents per clothing item to be hand-washed by criminals, or sneaking onto a ferry that also holds Al Capone’s mom coming in for a visit. Baseball is a big part of Moose’s life on and away from the island, and one of the favorite passtimes of the island kids is to try to catch stray home-run balls hit by the convicts.
Moose has it hard on the island, with his older sister getting all the attention. He is an attentive and brave younger brother for constantly putting his sister’s needs before his own. The tight and loyal relationship between Moose and his sister is beautifully written. We can see Moose’s heartbreak at his sister’s faults, but also his love for her. Moose is a very honest and lovable narrator, giving careful details of his ordeals and emotions trying to juggle all the facets of his life.
This book is a fantastic historical fiction peice that I would reccommend to any 9-10 year old wanting a glimpse in San Francisco’s past. I would even offer this book up for adults, as the themes of family and identity are very rich.
FINAL GRADE: AAl Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko Puffin books, 2004 ISBN 0142403709 225 pages