Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Goodreads says: A twelve-year-old boy named Moose moves to Alcatraz Island in 1935 when guards’ families were housed there, and has to contend with his extraordinary new environment in addition to life with his autistic sister.

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 has a great writing style for intermediate readers and it is no surprise that this book is a Newbery Honor along with other awards.  Moose is the main character, a 12 year old boy, and the author did a terrific job of creating the fictional world of Moose in the historical setting of “Alcatraz” and making real to life.

Also, this is one of the few books where I feel like the author deals with Autism in a realistic manner.  Moose’s sister, Natalie,  (although they don’t ever really say) has it, and I love how she is one of the integral characters and not just because of her autism. One can imagine, based on the title, that the gangster Al Capone is a feared prisoner on Alcatraz.  Also, one can imagine that curious youngsters on an island full of inmates could stumble across some interesting and even scary events.   For any young reader, the plot and characters are worthy of a read.

Choldenko also wrote a sequel, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, which opens with discovering a hidden letter to him – from Al Capone!?  The sequel is just a good as the original, which is hard for many authors to accomplish.

As a teacher and parent, this book also speaks to me because of it’s natural transition into the classroom.  There is much one can do with the history, place, and social setting of Moose and his family on Alcatraz.

Classroom Suggestions

Alcatraz: Research and discuss this famous prison in California {Geography, History}

Al Capone: Discuss one of the most famous gangsters from Chicago {I’d be careful about the age groups and details of his crimes, though!}

Moose: Character development, Relationship with his sister and parents

Here’s a Scholastic lesson plan with links to useful websites and resources: Great PDF with teaching tools for “Al Capone”