Book Review: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Synopsis

After his father takes a job as an electrician and guard, Moose Flanagan and his family find themselves living on the rock, the famous island home of the even more famous prison of Alcatraz. While Alcatraz is home to famous prisoners like Roy Gardner,  Machine Gun Kelly, and Al Capone, Moose soon discovers that his biggest problems will come from his friendship with the warden’s conniving daughter Piper.  Her scheme to charge students at their on shore school for the opportunity to have Al Capone wash their clothes is soon discovered by the warden thrusting Moose into the complicated and confusing realities of friendship.  His other challenge is his mom’s quest to find the very best help for Moose’s older sister Natalie who today would probably be diagnosed with autism.  As Moose is forced to watch over his sister while simultaneously trying to win and keep friends, he battles to maintain perspective, understand his friendships and care for his sister who has unwittingly become friends with one of the convicts. In a last ditch effort to help his sister get into the Marinoff P. Esther School for people with special needs, Moose, with the help of Piper, writes a letter to Al Capone asking him to pull some strings to make the school accept her. 

Review

Al Capone Does My Shirts is a fantastic story that I really loved.  The pacing of the plot is perfect – never too fast and never dragging. The characters are well developed so that I grew to despise Piper and even struggled to allow her grow through her immaturity and become a true friend for both Moose and for Natalie. The myriad of themes that Moose has to wrestle throughout ring true to the life of any pre-teen working to fit into a new school and neighborhood – even if Moose’s neighborhood includes maximum security convicts like Al Capone.  As a historical fiction, the story was well researched and I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s note at the end which included three interviews with people who were children on the island during the era of the story. Themes of friendship, family dynamics, right and wrong are all interspersed with a healthy dose of humor making this a rich tale that was touching and fun to read.  

  • Ages: 8 – 99
  • Awards: Newbery Honor; California Young Reader Award
  • Pages: 215
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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