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                Al Capone Does My Shirts

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Choldenko, G. (2004). Al Capone does my shirts. New York, NY: Puffin Books.


This historical fiction takes place on Alcatraz island in 1935. 12-year-old Moose Flanagan is not overly excited about his family’s recent move to the island, but he tolerates the change as it is in his family’s best interest. Moose has typical relationships with his peers and a sometimes strained relationship with his mother. However, he is surprising good with his older sister who appears to suffer from autism in a time period when people did not understand the condition or know how to treat it.

Moose and his friends are fascinated by the criminals on the island and like to brag about their connections to them. One friend, Piper, is always scheming and Moose has to balance this in addition to the pressures of his family. In his quest to find a “convict” baseball he puts his disabled sister in real danger. His sister is ok and surprisingly the biggest help the family receives for his sister’s care comes after some help from the most famous convict of all, Al Capone.

My Impression

I felt this book used very age appropriate dialog and believable characters. Moose has an amazing amount of patience with his sister and I wonder whether this would be the case for most 12-year-old boys in this situation. It is a heartwarming story and I was surprised about how much of the story centered around the sister, Natalie’s, condition. The historical facts were interesting. I think the reader comes away with a real understanding of what it would have been like to live on Alcatraz in the 1930’s.


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. Category: Books for Middle Readers–Fiction. 2004, Putnam, $15.99. Gr. 5-8.

Sullivan, E. (2004, February 1). [Review of the book Al Capone does my shirts, by G. Choldenko]. Booklist 100(11).  Retrieved from www.booklistonline.com

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) 2004, Putnam, 240p, $15.99. Category: Fiction. Ages 11 to 14. Starred Review. © 2004 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus. (2004, March 1). [Review of the book Al Capone does my shirts, by G. Choldenko]. Kirkus Reviews 72(5).  Retrieved from www.kirkusreviews.com/

Uses in the Library

I would love to build a display of historical fiction books with a “Through the Decades” theme. This book could represent the 1930’s and be an interesting change from the usual focus on the Great Depression when discussing the 1930’s.


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