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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 the Library Binding 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 the Library Binding edition.
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Top customer reviews
At the beginning of the book, I had a small problem with identifying important details because the opening chapters introduce a slew of characters. For example, I had to go back and reread early chapters to ascertain that the children on the island, for the most part, took a boat to the mainland for their schooling. I also had some trouble telling a few characters apart. But as the plot developed, I was very taken with the warmth the author felt for her characters and how moving the story was. Natalie is really the center of the story and Moose's maturation process is effected by his reaction to and relationship with his sister. And Moose's mother is a wonderfully complex woman, willing to do anything it takes to help her daughter, even if it means lying to others (and even herself) about her daughter's advancing age.
This leads me to the moral problem I have with the book's ending. POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT: The resolution of the story's central problem is brought about in a morally-iffy manner. While certainly inventive, and just maybe possible, the solution is still a definite "the ends justify the means" transaction. The ending could be construed to condone the strong arm tactics used by mobsters to achieve their aims. Great result, questionable tactics.
Whether to use this book in a classroom? As a middle grades teacher for 30 years I can see how some parents would be wary of a book with some violent and sexual overtones. Caveat emptor. However, what could you expect from a story that takes place in an environment full of monsters, which all the Alcatraz inmates undoubtedly were? (It would be bit like, as you were leaving the theater, to complain about the violence in a movie entitled "Zombie Attacks." Uh, I think the movie poster would sort of give a clue as to the content.) And yes, the language can be a bit raw. But again, consider the setting. Do you expect a person just shot in a war movie to scream, "Ah, shucks"? So yes, I believe this book should be handled with care by teachers and parents, but then again so should watching the evening news. You will get far more sex, violence, corruption, and depravity there than from this book.
All in all, many thanks to Gennifer Choldenko for a great reading experience. (And don't neglect to read the afterward. You will find very interesting details that had tremendous influence in the creation of this work.)
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!