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Al Capone Does My Shirts (Tales from Alcatraz Series #1)

Al Capone Does My Shirts (Tales from Alcatraz Series #1)

4.2 335
by Gennifer Choldenko

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A Newbery Honor Book

Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I'm not the only kid who lives here. There's my sister, Natalie, except she doesn't count. And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cook's or doctors or electricians for the


A Newbery Honor Book

Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I'm not the only kid who lives here. There's my sister, Natalie, except she doesn't count. And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cook's or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. Plus, there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. 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.

"Choldenko's pacing is exquisite. . . . [A] great read."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Choldenko's pacing is exquisite. . . . [A] great read."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
The Washington Post
Natalie's story is an important thread, sensitively handled. But what stays in the mind is the teeming mini-society of the island, where guards' families really did live and where a kid really might have encountered Al Capone, an inmate at Alcatraz from 1934 to 1939. — Elizabeth Ward
Publishers Weekly
In our Best Books citation, PW said of this tale set in 1935, "Choldenko captures the tense, nuanced family dynamics touched off by the narrator's sister's disability as skillfully as she handles the mystique of Alcatraz." Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In 1935, notorious gangster Al Capone is one of three hundred convicts housed in the maximum-security penitentiary on Alcatraz Island. Twelve-year-old Moose Flanagan also lives on the island. His father has taken a position as an electrician and guard at the prison in hopes that Moose's sister, Natalie, will be accepted at a special school in nearby San Francisco. Not only has Moose been forced to leave friends behind and move with his family to a fortress island, but he also cannot play baseball or make new friends now because he is stuck taking care of his sister whenever he is not in school. Natalie is afflicted with the condition now known as autism, and even at age sixteen, she cannot be left unsupervised. Everyone in the family has been under a strain because of Natalie's special needs. Meanwhile Piper, the warden's pretty, spoiled daughter, makes life complicated for Moose. The island's residents have their laundry done by the convicts, and thrill-seeking Piper drags Moose into her wild stunt of marketing Al Capone's laundry services to their middle school classmates in San Francisco. But when his family desperately needs a break in their efforts to get help for Natalie, Moose knows that only Piper has the connections and the audacity to help him pull off a reckless scheme involving the island's most famous inmate. Choldenko, author of Notes from a Liar and Her Dog (Putnam's, 2001/VOYA August 2001), weaves three As—Alcatraz, Al Capone, and autism—into an excellent historical novel for middle-grade readers. A large, annotated 1935 photograph of Alcatraz Island and an informative author's note give substance to the novel's factual sources. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M J (Betterthan most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 240p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Walter Hogan
Jobs are hard to come by in 1935, so Moose's father doesn't hesitate to move his family to Alcatraz when he gets work as a guard there. Moose, age 12, is far from pleased, though. His friends and baseball team are back in San Francisco, his father works long hours, and when his mother takes a job too he is put in charge of minding his sister Natalie. Natalie is older than he is, but she is autistic, and she can be very difficult to deal with at times because of her obsessive behavior and temper tantrums. Meanwhile, Moose meets the warden's attractive but trouble-seeking daughter, Piper. He learns about the island and the prisoners, and reluctantly becomes involved in Piper's schemes, such as charging classmates for the opportunity to have their laundry done by the inmates—hence the title. Al Capone features briefly as a minor character, and in desperation Moose writes to him to ask him to use his influence to gain Natalie a place at a special school, a long-held dream of his mother's. Rather than a novel of gangsters, then, as some might think from the title, this is a coming-of-age tale about a boy dealing with his autistic sister, albeit in an unusual setting—YAs hoping for gory details of criminal and prison life will have to go elsewhere. Choldenko, author of Notes From a Liar and Her Dog, offers a sensitive portrait of autism and how it affects a family, and in a author's note at the end she discusses her research about life on Alcatraz and on autism, and mentions that her own sister has autism. An affecting novel. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2004, Penguin, Putnam, 240p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature
Author Choldenko has written a funny and clever middle grade novel about a boy named Matthew (Moose) Flanagan who is living on Alcatraz Island with his family. The family has moved to the Island because Moose's father has found work as an electrician, and because his sister Natalie, who is autistic, can go to a good school nearby. Moose is not happy about living on the island, especially after meeting the Warden's daughter Piper who is bossy and a bit of a troublemaker. Moose's father has warned him to stay out of trouble because he needs this job and Natalie needs to go to the special school. Moose's life becomes miserable when Piper involves him and a few other island kids in a moneymaking scheme to have their schoolmates' clothes laundered by the convicts on Alcatraz Island. Piper tempts her school chums by claiming that Al Capone, the famous gangster, may even wash their shirts. The scheme falls apart when the Warden finds out what his daughter and friends are up to. Then, to make matters worse, the school that Natalie attends doesn't want her and she has to come home. Moose winds up watching her and has to forego his Monday after-school baseball game. This is an amusing book about interesting characters placed in a different and unlikely setting and trying to make the best of their situation. 2004, G. P. Putnam's Sons, Ages 10 up.
— Della A. Yannuzzi
School Library Journal
Gr 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 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Moose's world is turned upside down when his family moves to Alcatraz Island where his Dad has taken a job as a prison guard. Super-responsible Moose, big for 12, finds himself caught in the social interactions of this odd cut-off world. He cares for his sister who is older, yet acts much younger due to her autism and he finds his life alternating between frustration and growth. His mother focuses all of her attention on ways to cure the sister; his dad works two jobs and meekly accepts the mother's choices; his fellow island-dwellers are a funny mix of oddball characters and good friends. Basing her story on the actual experience of those who supported the prison in the '30s-when Al Capone was an inmate-Choldenko's pacing is exquisite, balancing the tense family dynamics alongside the often-humorous and riveting school story of peer pressure and friendship. Fascinating setting as a metaphor for Moose's own imprisonment and enabling some hysterically funny scenes, but a great read no matter where it takes place. (lengthy author's note with footnotes to sources) (Fiction. 11-14)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Tales from Alcatraz Series , #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.70(d)
600L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Choldenko's pacing is exquisite. . . . [A] great read."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Meet the Author

Gennifer Choldenko received a B.A. from Brandeis University, graduating cum laude with honors, and a B.F.A. in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. Gennifer’s first picture book is titled Moonstruck: The True Story of the Cow Who Jumped Over the Moon. Reviewers called Moonstruck "hilarious" (School Library Journal), "hysterical, irreverent" (National Parenting Center), and "a giggle from beginning to end" (Publishers Weekly). Gennifer was the youngest in a family of four kids, where her nickname was "Snot-Nose." Her quirky sense of humor made its debut at the dinner table when Gennifer was a very little kid. After that, anything strange and funny became known as a Gennifer Joke.

Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and their two children. When she is not writing, she likes to draw animals at the zoo, especially crocodiles and turtles because they lie perfectly still. Notes From a Liar and Her Dog is her first novel for children.

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Al Capone Does My Shirts 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 335 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes you schould. This is a great book! I first read it in 5th grade for the Battle of Books, now I am in 7th grade now. I have now read the second book also. My favorite is still the first!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the greatest book you could ever read.I don't know why you wouldn't read it. This book was exciting and fun.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just read the first few chapters and was hooked!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cant put it down and i HATE TO READ tells u some thing
Faun Baldizzi More than 1 year ago
A must read if your kids tour Alcatrez! Both my daughter and son enjoyed both Al Capone books very much and finished them quickly.
Danibelle More than 1 year ago
This is a great historical novel for children. It deals with the political, social and economic issues of the time along with issues that every preteen has to face- friendship, family, romance. On top of all the good lessons that can be learned from the book, it's also very funny and has engaging characters. Strongly recommend.
karlee_1543 More than 1 year ago
Book Review Outline Book title and author: Al Capone Does My Shirt by Gennifer Choldenko Title of review: A Very Good Book Number of stars (1 to 5): four Introduction A twelve year old boy named Moose Flanagan and his family lived on the island named Alcatraz. Moose is a bit mischief, not only because he lives on Alcatraz, but because he can't play baseball after school with his friends. His mom is making him stay at home and watch his little sister named Natalie. Natalie has autism that is your have to be constantly doing something. Description and summary of main points Moose met a new girl today at school and her name was Theresa. She was a nice little girl. Moose wanted to find this baseball for his friend named piper. Evaluation Moose gets stuck in some different situations. Some of the situations are that Natalie has to be playing with something all of the time. Conclusion Moose went and found a baseball and he found on. But Natalie was sitting there on a big rock playing with little rocks and there was a Alcatraz prisoner that came up too her. The Alcatraz prisoner's number was 105 and that's all that Natalie talked about after that time. Your final review This book is an awesome book. I would highly recommend you to read this book because it is a good book. If I could rate it I would rate it to be five stars. You would have an awesome time sitting down reading it. It is enjoying book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book I read for this review was called Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko, and I rated it with a lucky 3 stars. Why did I choose this middle rating? Well, to be honest, Al Capone Does My Shirts was not the Newberry Winner I expected it to be. I imagined an actually possible story line (which I will explain farther on down in this review.) I also wished for more of Al Capone, quite honestly, to be in this book ¿ most of it was the typical boy-meets-friends, friends work together to solve big mystery/problem. Probable story plot, right? Well, I expected more of a complex storyline for a Newberry Winner. Moose Flannagan has mixed feelings on his new home on Alcatraz Island, once a famous prison, prided on taking the worst of the worst. The time frame is 1935 ¿ and Moose¿s sister Natalie has the unidentified condition of autism. Moose has a love of baseball, and at school, becomes rather like an outcast, for a simple reason ¿ he cannot stay after school to play ball with the guys. Why not? He must tend to tantrum-prone Natalie, whom his mother babies and his father sympathizes for. Moose, however, is the only one who reaches Natalie, and he has very different ideas about how Natalie should be brought up. His mother is desperately trying to get Natalie into a special school for autistic and ¿special¿ children. And she must lie about Natalies age ¿ not just for that, but for everything. (As quoted directly from the text on the paperback edition on page 11) - ¿How old is she?¿ the girl whispers. ¿Ten,¿ I answer. Natalies age is always ten. Every year my mom has a party for her and she turns ten again. My mom (going on to page 12) started counting Nat¿s age this screwy way a long time ago. (End quote.) (I personally feel that this is not even possible ¿ I know this is a fictional book, but in the real world, you cannot lie about your age. Period. This just confused me quite a lot. I think, though this was a crucial plot attribute, that it might¿ve been a little far-fetched.) Natalie attracts many raised eyebrows, especially from Warden Williams (who runs the island) and his gorgeous, partially cruel daughter, Piper. Piper is one of those ¿mean girls¿ ¿ pretty on the outside, devilishly scandalous on the inside. She presumes Natalie to be retarded in the beginning, which really sets off her and Moose¿s relationship ¿ which is not very good, but you can see some attraction for the other lurking beneath the cloudy surface. However, Natalie will not get into this special place of belonging without a little help from Al Capone himself, and a realization by her mother that yes, time does move on. If you liked this story, perhaps you might be interested in Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L¿Engle, Holes by Louis Sachar, and Undercrurrents be Willo Davis Roberta. Just for the record, I¿m a 7th grader who enjoys to dance and cheerlead. This book may interest more of the baseball/basketball type.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
[Hello! I will shapeshift from a fox.]
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my all-time favorite books! It is very well written, which I believe is why it won a Newbery award. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Alcatraz. I was very fascinated about the dreadful, unescapable prison, so when I read a couple chapters of this book, I was hooked. This is one of the books, that I can really relate to. It makes me feel understanding towards the characters, and what they are going through. The main characters in this story are Moose, Natalie, Piper, Theresa, Jimmy, Scout and Annie. Moose describes how his family, has moved to this island for his dad’s new job as a prison guard. His sister, Natalie, has autism and it’s tough for her to get help. This story takes place in the nineteen thirties, so people thought the solution to “fix” her was to lock her up. In the end, since Moose’s laundry man is Al Capone, he writes a note to him. He writes this note asking to get his sister into a school; a school where she’s been turned down twice. This story is suspenseful, and really captures your heart. By B.P. 5th Grade Student
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
funny and awkward story just like the characters in it
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I have been to Alactraz and reading it was awesome!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Keeps sucking. And holds ur balls, massg aging them
StefanC More than 1 year ago
"Al Capone Does My Shirts" by Gennifer Choldenko is a great book. In the times where its tough to get a job, The father moves to Alcatraz where he gets a job as a guard. He moves there with his wife, son, and daughter.  The daughter is Natalie and the son is Moose Flanagan. The boy he likes playing baseball and the daughter is special,  They stopped counting her age anymore, to them shes 10. Shes very good with numbers, she likes to read the index’s of books instead of the actual book. Moose he likes baseball and he gains a connection with kids at school. The book deals with political, social and economic issues at the time. This book deals with funny, happy and sad times all at once. Moose is a strong loving brother and supports his sister no matter what. At first  the other girl picks on Natalie cause of how she looks and her brother defends her. I found the book to be very  interesting as the story went on. This book is a great book to look up too, I just found out there was a second one and how great the first one was I might as well read the second book. At the end of the day, The “Al Capone Does My Shirts” by Gennifer Choldenko is a great book and I recommend it to all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of those special books that appeals to all ages. Although it's a book about a teen-aged boy and his autistic sister and is supposedly written for middle school kids, I found it to be a very engaging story and look forward to reading the sequels. The Alcatraz setting in the 1930's is very unique and interesting too, and prompted me to look up the history of this famous prison and Al Capone as well. Read it! You won' t be disappointed.
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I felt like I wasnt falling behind in reading for once
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok, but not the best. You should try 'No passengers beyond this point.' It is by the same author, can be sad.