Sunday, March 13, 2011

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Choldenko, G. (2004). Al Capone Does My Shirts. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Plot Summary:
Moose and his family move to Alcatraz Island for his dad's new job as a guard and electrician at the prison. The island has apartments for guards and their families so that they can be close by in case anything happens with the prisoners. Moose's family moves him away from his friends and home to Alcatraz so that his parents can send his older sister, Natalie, to a special school, the Esther P. Marinoff School in San Francisco. Natalie is autistic, although that was not a known diagnosis in 1935, the year in which the book begins. Moose befriends the other kids on the island and becomes notorious at his school in San Francisco for living among the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Natalie does not immediately get into the school and requires special care to prepare her for another shot at acceptance into the school. These lessons are expensive and Moose's mom must work evenings, leaving Natalie in the care of Moose. Moose's outlook on his experiences on the island and his feelings towards his sister begin to change, prompting him to take a big chance in getting Al Capone to pull some strings to make a good thing to happen.

The setting for this book is incredible. I had no idea that families ever lived on Alcatraz Island. The author does an incredible job of not letting the book get lost in the setting, it's more about Moose and his conflicted self as he navigates new experiences in his new surroundings. I would get so frustrated reading about the responsibilities loaded onto Moose in taking care of his sister. After finishing the book, the author's note states that the author's sister was autistic, which makes sense due to the incredible job she did in capturing the emotions associated with having a sibling with autism. Moose is realistically conflicted about most things in his life, where he lives, his friends, and his feelings towards girls; which is very common to boys this age. The author adds another layer to this with his relationship with his sister and loving her, but also being resentful for the responsibilities placed on him. I especially enjoyed the author's note at the end providing historical accounts of life for families and prisoners on Alcatraz Island. I found myself wondering at the probability of many things throughout the book, so the first hand accounts were very welcome at the end.

realistic fiction, historical fiction

Reading Level:
Ages 9 - 12

siblings, autism, Alcatraz

Series Information:
Al Capone Shines My Shoes is the sequel to this book.

2005 Newbery Honor Book

Character Names/Descriptions:
Matthew Flanagan (Moose): 12 year-old boy just moved to Alcatraz Island; sister Natalie is autistic, he takes care of her a lot; likes baseball
Natalie Flanagan: Moose's sister; is 15 years-old, but their mom tells everyone she is 10; is trying to get into the Esther P. Marinoff school; loves counting the buttons in her button box; becomes friendly with an inmate on garden detail (Onion 105)
Al Capone: notorious gangster imprisoned on the island; helps Moose out with a special favor
Theresa Mattaman: girl living on the island; 7 years-old; gets along well with Natalie
Piper Williams: warden's daughter; smart; always scheming; goes to Moose's school in San Francisco
Annie: girl living on the island; 12 years-old; good at playing catch
Jimmy Mattaman: Theresa's brother; builds contraptions

Moose and his family move to Alcatraz Island in 1935. Once there he must adapt to his new life and adjust to the increased responsibility of his autistic sister.

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