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

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

4.2 330
by Gennifer Choldenko, Kirby Heyborne

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I want to be on Alcatraz like I want poison oak on my private parts. But apparently nobody cares, because now I’m Moose Flanagan, Alcatraz Island Boy–all so my sister can go to the Esther P. Marinoff School, where kids wear their clothes inside out and there isn’t a book in sight. Obedient Moose. I always do what I’m supposed to

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I want to be on Alcatraz like I want poison oak on my private parts. But apparently nobody cares, because now I’m Moose Flanagan, Alcatraz Island Boy–all so my sister can go to the Esther P. Marinoff School, where kids wear their clothes inside out and there isn’t a book in sight. Obedient Moose. I always do what I’m supposed to do.

When Moose’s family moves to Alcatraz Island so his father can work as a guard and his sister can attend a special school in San Francisco, he has to leave his friends behind. But it’s worth it, right? If his sister, Natalie, can get help, maybe his family will finally be normal.

But on Alcatraz his dad is so busy, he’s never around. His mom’s preoccupation with Natalie’s condition (today, it would be called autism) is even worse now that there’s no extended family to help. And of course, there’s never enough money.

When Moose meets Piper, the cute daughter of the warden, he knows right off she’s trouble. But she’s also strangely irresistible. All Moose wants to do is protect Natalie, live up to his parents’ expectations and stay out of trouble. But on Alcatraz, trouble is never very far away.

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Editorial Reviews

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)
From the Publisher
Choldenko's pacing is exquisite. . . . [A] great read. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

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Product Details

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Tales from Alcatraz Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years


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

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