- Age Range: 10 and up
- Grade Level: 5 and up
- Lexile Measure: 600L (What's this?)
- Series: Tales from Alcatraz
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Puffin Books; Reprint edition (April 20, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0142403709
- ISBN-13: 978-0142403709
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (471 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Al Capone Does My Shirts (Tales from Alcatraz) Paperback – April 20, 2006
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From School Library Journal
Grade 6-8--In this appealing novel set in 1935, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan and his family move from Santa Monica to Alcatraz Island where his father gets a job as an electrician at the prison and his mother hopes to send his autistic older sister to a special school in San Francisco. When Natalie is rejected by the school, Moose is unable to play baseball because he must take care of her, and her unorthodox behavior sometimes lands him in hot water. He also comes to grief when he reluctantly goes along with a moneymaking scheme dreamed up by the warden's pretty but troublesome daughter. Family dilemmas are at the center of the story, but history and setting--including plenty of references to the prison's most infamous inmate, mob boss Al Capone--play an important part, too. The Flanagan family is believable in the way each member deals with Natalie and her difficulties, and Moose makes a sympathetic main character. The story, told with humor and skill, will fascinate readers with an interest in what it was like for the children of prison guards and other workers to actually grow up on Alcatraz Island.--Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Gr. 5-8. Twelve-year-old Moose moves to Alcatraz in 1935 so his father can work as a prison guard and his younger, autistic sister, Natalie, can attend a special school in San Francisco. It is a time when the federal prison is home to notorious criminals like gangster Al Capone. Depressed about having to leave his friends and winning baseball team behind, Moose finds little to be happy about on Alcatraz. He never sees his dad, who is always working; and Natalie's condition-- her tantrums and constant needs--demand all his mother's attention. Things look up for Moose when he befriends the irresistible Piper, the warden's daughter, who has a knack for getting Moose into embarrassing but harmless trouble. Helped by Piper, Moose eventually comes to terms with his new situation. With its unique setting and well-developed characters, this warm, engaging coming-of-age story has plenty of appeal, and Choldenko offers some fascinating historical background on Alcatraz Island in an afterword. Ed Sullivan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I could barely put down my Kindle. I have yet to read a book written for young people that grabbed my attention like this one. I like historic fiction and this Ms. Choldenko has found a niche in history that few of us know about and filled it with interesting characters and a plot line that doesn't just confine itself to its unique location. The story of Moose and his sister Natalie is nicely woven into the overall plot along family life during the depression and Moose's coming of age, friendships, romances, and the natural curiosity of the youngsters about their notorious neighbors.
I'm definitely buying this one for my 13 year old grandson!
Not many kids get to live on an island chock full of the world's most dangerous prisoners. But not many kids are Moose Flanagan. When his father takes a job as a guard on Alcatraz Island, just off the coast of San Francisco, Moose finds himself in alarmingly close proximity with a variety of different vicious criminals. The whole reason his father took the job, of course, is because of Moose's sister Natalie. A victim of autism, Natalie's condition isn't one that's easy to treat in 1935 America. The family has just discovered a wonderful school that might do Natalie some great good if they can only get her into it. Unfortunately, treating Natalie so that she's acceptable to the school may require her to spend copious amounts of time with Moose when he'd rather be playing baseball. And then there's that awful warden's daughter, Piper, who keeps getting Moose and his friends into trouble all the time. Things are a lot more interesting on an island prison than even Moose might have suspected.
The book does several very difficult things simultaneously. First of all, it tells the story of Moose and Natalie without appealing to the lowest common denominator. I was deathly afraid that this might turn into one of those "Beautiful Mind"/"I Am Sam"/"Shine"/any other triumph-over-adversity story you'd like to name. I was hoping against hope that this would not end up being some teary weeper with a perfect happy ending and an idealized struggle against the unknowable. Now, admittedly, the ending is (not to give anything away) pretty darn perfect. Choldenko isn't afraid of employing a little deus ex machina to get her way. On the other hand, she pulls it off. Sure, the ending's just a tad schlocky. But it's also exactly what the reader wants to hear. There are no happy endings for autistic kids in a 1935 world, but this one comes pretty darn close.
Another difficult thing the book manages is to ever-so-slightly redeem the story's resident demon from the fourth dimension of Hell, Piper. This girl is trouble, but worse she's self-centered, cruel, and cunning. Moose knows right from the start not to trust her, but she's also cute and Moose is fourteen-years-old and not entirely in charge of his hormones. I guess I spend a lot of my time reading children's books in a state of deathly fear because not only was I worried that this would be a cheesy heartwarming tale but I was also afraid that Piper would be utterly redeemed by the tale's end. And gosh darn it, I hated Piper! I hated her so much it wasn't funny. I mean, she almost gets the other kids' parents fired, she mocks Natalie (calls her "retarded" no less), she lies, tries to use Natalie as bait to get at a con, and is generally awful all over. Yet Choldenko gives her a slight improvement by the book's end. Nothing mind-blowing. Nothing miraculous. Just an ever-so-slight change from breathtaking evil to almost having a heart. And in a lesser author's hands this would've been either unbelievable or callous or both. Yet Choldenko pulls it, and many other plot points too, off with a skill I've not seen in a rising children's author in some time.
So let's review. You've got a book that is chock full of facts. I mean, the author even includes a note at the back that explains what was made up and points out which facts may have been stretched. She's so accurate that she even feels the need to point out that the weather she's listed here, "does not reflect the exact weather of 1935". Now THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is a writer who cares about preserving a historical record. In addition to this, the book does not pull at your heart-strings in a cheap and lazy fashion. It's honest and appealing and treats Natalie's autism brilliantly (possibly because Choldenko's own sister had a severe form of autism). Finally, it redeems the unredeemable believably. I don't know what else I can say except to point out that on top of all this the book's a very enjoyable read. It has characters you care for, real moments of tension and suspense, a brilliant setting, and a superb ear for dialogue. If you want to booktalk a new story to the kids you know, just offer them this tale about a guy who lives near gangsters and murderers. I think they'll bite.