A wonderful book, filled with tidbits of historical accuracies. this story is about a time in one boy's life, during which he was living on Alcatraz and attending school in San Francisco. Most of the story revolves around his internal conflicts with wanting to live a normal life, in a normal neighborhood, with a normal family, while having to make due with the reality of living on Alcatraz Island with some of that period's most infamous criminals, having a father who is a prison guard and caring for an autistic sister in the 1930s, when autism was still treated like a personal choice. Wonderful writing - written for young readers, but enjoyable for adults as well.
This was a nominated book for the Georgia Book awards in 2006, and rightfully so. The characters are believable, and the setting is very important to the story's plot. I had been to San Francisco not long before I read this book, and it was fun imagining how it may have been for a young boy and his family to live on Alcatraz. This is a good book for 4th - 7th graders to read to experience the trials of another child their age.
First Line: Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.
It's 1935. Twelve-year-old Moose Flanagan has just moved to Alcatraz with his family, and he's not happy about it. Not one little bit:
"The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don't want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you're me. I came here because my mother said I had to."
Moose's sister is autistic, and his mother's life revolves around the girl. They've moved to Alcatraz because his father got a better-paying job there that would allow them to send Natalie to a special school-- if they can get her accepted there.
Moose is a typical boy. He doesn't care all that much for school, and he loves playing baseball. Once they've moved to Alcatraz, Moose finds that his father is so busy picking up extra hours (and extra money) that he's too exhausted to spend time with his son. His mother has to take the boat to San Francisco every day so she can earn money needed for Natalie's schooling. Just as Moose begins to fit in with the other children on the island, Mrs. Flanagan's work hours increase, and Moose has to make sacrifices in order to take care of Natalie.
As I read this book, my heart bled for Moose. Everything in the Flanagan household revolved around Natalie and her needs. Natalie, Natalie, Natalie. No one paid attention to Moose unless he questioned the grown-ups' protocol, and then he got the kind of attention no child wants.
Choldenko's book is well-written and flows smoothly. I felt as though I were on Alcatraz during the Depression. The kids living on the island were kids: the warden's daughter was an up-and-coming con artist with her schemes to bring in some money; Moose's baseball playing buddies didn't hit a false note as they got used to their new player; and a six-year-old's explanation as to why a pregnant woman on the island needed to stay off her feet had me spluttering and cleaning tea off my monitor.
The most gratifying part of reading Al Capone Does My Shirts is the way Moose interacted with everyone and the way he began to grow up and see things through other people's eyes. Living with an autistic child is dealt with honestly, in part due to the fact that the author's sister was diagnosed with autism.
This is a book that both children and adults can enjoy. The period detail hits all the right notes, the pacing is sure and never flags, and the story is involving from first page to last. Choldenko's skill brings all these characters to life-- you commiserate with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and even try to solve their problems with them. Moose, Natalie and everyone else are real, and that's one of the best compliments I can give any author.
I've just heard about Choldenko's Al Capone Shines My Shoes. Anyone want to bet on whether or not I'll read it?
I had this book in my classroom, and my 17 year old daughter started reaading it. When she was done she said it made her happy. Well, I always want to read things that make me happy. It is really a cute, dear book. I loved it!
"If you love someone, you have to try things even if they don't make sense to anyone else" Moose Flanagan and his family arrive on Alcatraz Island in 1935 so his father Cam can work as an electrician and guard at the prison and his sister Natalie can have a chance to attend a "special" school for children with Autism. At the time it's not called Autism, but that is what the reader of today is lead to believe. Moose is caught in the middle of Piper the wardens daughters' schemes and her mad drive to meet Al Capone and his mothers desperate need to get Natalie into the only school that can help her. Moose is the only one that can really reach Natalie and the decisions and realities that the family has to face can just be too much for a 12 year old boy. Maybe Al Capone is his only option.
My son was reading this book and I picked it up to see what it was about. Big mistake because for the remainder of the day I was caught up it!! The main character and his home life is so believeable. The way the family copes with the Natalie's situation is also very telling for that time in history. It was clear reading the book that Natalie was autistic but for the time period of the book any mental disability was labeled "retarded." Moose was torn with wanting to be a regular kid and having to step up and help with his not so regular sister. The characters are well developed and the story very well written. While the ending seemed a bit far fetched it was absolutely feel good! I would recommend this book for any middle school child.
Rebecca - reviewed Al Capone Does My Shirts (Newbery Honor Book) on
Helpful Score: 1
I really enjoyed this historical fiction book. I think the level it is best suited for is middle school students and older as that writing is too advanced for younger students. I liked how the author fictionalized some aspects of the book to make it interesting. All the characters had very different personalities. But the author was still able to keep the book historically accurate about living at Alcatraz and having a sibling with autism. A nice touch is at the end of the book where the author tells where she got the information from the book and what parts are fact and fiction. I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
I usually don't read Young Adult or children's literature but I was wowed by this historical fiction book. It draws from accounts of people who lived on Alcatraz because they or family members were guards and other workers at the famous prison. The author's imagination takes off from there. It's also a look at a family who has a daughter with autism long before that was officially diagnosed/labeled. It's an interesting story well-told. I can't wait to have my daughter read it.
Recommended by a friend with two children on the autism spectrum, after I told her about Mockingbird, this was much lighter fare. (The book summary does a much better job of explaining the plot than I could.) Well written, humorous yet realistic. This book didn't disappoint. I especially loved the ending.
1935, Alcatraz Island. When Moose's family moves to Alcatrax so his father can work as a guard and his sister can attend a special school in San Francisco, he has to leave behind his friends and his winning baseball team. On Alcatraz, Moose's dad is so busy he's never around. And his mom's preoccupation with Natalie's condition - her tantrums and constant needs - spirals out of control. When Moose meets Piper, the cute daughter of the warden, he knows right off she;s trouble. But she's also strangely irrisistible. All Moose wants is to protect Natalie, make his parents proud and stay out of trouble. But on Alcatraz, trouble is never very far away.