A One-of-a-Kind Work of Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Series: Al Capone at Alcatraz (Book 1 of 3)
Pub. Date (Paperback Reissue): April 20, 2006
Original Publication Date: March 1, 2004
Awards: Newbery Honor, 2005; Sid Fleischman Humor Award, 2005; Named Best Book of the Year by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal (see full list of awards here)
Starred Reviews: Kirkus, PW, School Library Journal
Buy the Book and Continue the Series!
Murderers, Mob Bosses, and Convicts…These guys are not your average neighbors. But it’s 1935, and twelve-year-old Moose Flanagan and his family have just moved to Alcatraz, the infamous island that’s home to criminals such as notorious escapee Roy Gardner, Machine Gun Kelly, and, of course, Al Capone. Moose doesn’t actually get to meet the cons, but he does meet Piper Williams, the warden’s daughter who comes up with so many schemes that she might as well be a criminal! Now Moose has to try to fit in at his new school, avoid getting caught up in Piper’s countless plots, and keep an eye on his sister, Natalie, who’s not like other kids. All Moose wants to do is stay out of trouble. But on Alcatraz, trouble is never very far away.
You’d think the most terrifying part of living on Alcatraz Island would be the inmates, right? For twelve-year-old resident Matthew “Moose” Flanagan, the greater danger is a spitfire of girl named Piper who happens to be the warden’s daughter. Moose’s family moved to Alcatraz to try to get his sister Natalie enrolled at a special school in San Francisco. Their mother struggles with trying to help Natalie (who today would probably be diagnosed with a severe form of Autism), and in the past has gone to great lengths in the hope to “cure” her. Moose bears a large part of the burden of responsibility for the daily care of Natalie. Though he loves his sister dearly and protects her passionately, watching her taxes him. Choldenko skillfully handles the familial tensions and deftly explores the many nuances of their relationships.
Luckily, Al Capone Does My Shirts is loaded with humor that balances out the weightier emotional complexity. Kids (and their parents — you’ll want to read with them) will learn a lot about what it was like to live on Alcatraz in the early years. The history is seamlessly integrated into the story without causing any bumps or delays in pacing. For over a year, Choldenko served as a volunteer docent on Alcatraz, and it’s clear she’s done her research. She’s even added an extended Author’s Note, complete with annotations. (Here’s where parents and “big kids” will be fascinated and inspired to investigate further into life on Alcatraz.)
Themes and topics explored in the novel include family, sibling dynamics, overcoming adversity, inclusion, change, fitting in and handling peer pressure, and unconditional love.
The narrative voice and characterization are compelling and strong. You’ll grow awfully fond of Moose and Natalie. Heck, you’ll even learn to like Piper. You might even halfway wish you could have had the experience of growing up on “The Rock”…well, maybe that’s taking things too far. But I’m not stretching the truth when I tell you that this charming, funny, and heart-tugging little book will leave such a mark on you that you’ll not want to say goodbye. Thankfully, Choldenko obliges with two sequels, Al Capone Shines My Shoes and Al Capone Does My Homework.
— Dawn Teresa
5 of 5 Hearts. A One-of-a-Kind Work of Middle Grade Historical Fiction.
With Al Capone Does My Shirts, Gennifer Choldenko, with a style all her own, has beautifully woven together all the right elements to create a first-class novel that is just the start of what I’m confident will be an enduring series. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll grow to care for the people who live between the covers of this book. And when you’ve finished this first volume, you’ll be glad you need not say farewell.