Al Capone Does My Shirts

by Gennifer Choldenko Book 1 of the Al Capone Series

When Moose Flanagan moves to Alcatraz Island so his father can work as a prison guard,... read more

When Moose Flanagan moves to Alcatraz Island so his father can work as a prison guard, he’s concerned about leaving his friends and his baseball team behind. He quickly discovers that living on the same piece of ground that harbors Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone is a whole new ballgame. Along with the children of the other prison employees, Moose takes a boat to San Francisco each weekday to attend school. There the Island kids milk the mystique of their home for all it’s worth, concocting an ingenious scheme that involves smuggling their classmates’ dirty clothes into the prison laundry system—for a price. The humor of Moose’s escapades is balanced with a more serious issue that his family deals with daily: his older sister Natalie has a condition that keeps her from functioning as a typical teenager. Unidentified in this story set in the 1930s, Natalie’s condition would be diagnosed as autistic today. Desperate to find help for Natalie, Moose’s mother insists that her 16-year-old daughter is only ten, an age when she’s still eligible to attend special schools rather than being relegated to an institution. A concluding author’s note describes life on Alcatraz during its tenure as a working penitentiary from 1934 to 1963, solidly grounding this piece of fiction within fact. In a similar vein, Gennifer Choldenko’s sister served as inspiration for the character of Natalie, who is portrayed with respect and intimacy. The author’s dedication reads, “To my sister, Gina Johnson, and to all of us who loved her—however imperfectly.” (Ages 10–14)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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