All aboard to Alcatraz! Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Choldenko, G. Al Capone Does My Shirts. Puffin Books, 2006. 228 pages. Hardcover 2004 $15.34, ISBN 978-0-399-23861-1; Hardcover 2000 $15.45, ISBN  978-0-7569-7020-8;  Tr. $6.84, ISBN  978-0-14-240370-9; PLB $13.06, ISBN 978-1-41566-588-6

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Historical Fiction

Part of a series? Yes — Al Capone at Alcatraz series

Plot Summary:

Moose Flanagan finds himself living on Alcatraz alongside the worst of the worst criminals when his dad needs a new job … and his sister needs a new school. Natalie Flanagan has been ten years old for quite some time, as keeping Natalie “ten years old” is her mother’s best chance at getting Natalie the help that she needs. Natalie is different, and since no one has been able to accurately diagnose her or prescribe a cure, the Flanagans are trying everything they can to give Natalie a normal life. For Moose, this means moving from home in Santa Monica all the way out to Alcatraz, taking a boat into school in San Francisco everyday with Piper, the warden’s daughter and a girl who is more trouble than she’s worth. Can Natalie get the help she needs (and is it the help being given to her?)? (Plus — will Moose ever meet Al Capone?!)

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book was a great read. There are some elements of it that are tough — namely, how people treat Natalie as well as the focus on “fixing” her, but it also reads as historically accurate, as many of the ways that we as a community discuss autistic people and their differences from “neurologically typical” people are still in the process of acknowledging autistic people as people who think differently, rather than “broken” people who need to be prevented or fixed. The presentation of Alcatraz is delicious, and Moose is as fantastic narrator. His love for his sister is obvious, as is his frustration with Piper, his struggles with his mother’s treatment of him (and his sister), and his desire to live a normal life.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This is a great historical fiction pick especially for my students as we are located in San Francisco and have a clear view of the island! The neighborhoods discussed in the book are close to our school, so it’s a fun look back at what San Francisco and Alcatraz were like. This would be a fun reading circle book. Perhaps an activity for this book would be to look at photos of “old” San Francisco and to then compare them to photos now … perhaps even taking part in a San Francisco scavenger hunt and/or trip to Alcatraz with parental supervision and permission! (Given our proximity to the island, this could happen for our group.) (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Books, 2005

Kirkus Reviews starred 3/1/04

Library Media Connection starred 11/1/04

Newbery Honor, 2005

Publishers Weekly starred 2/2/04

School Library Journal starred 3/1/04


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