Al Capone Does My Shirts

by Gennifer Choldenko (2004)

We are thrilled to offer Gennifer Choldenko’s humorous and heartwarming story to our One School, One Book program for Middle School.

In the 1920s, only the baddest of the bad were sent to Alcatraz Island. Unless, of course, you live there!  Moose is a middle school boy whose father has been hired to work, and live, there with his family.  Yes, the families of those employed on Alcatraz lived there, too.  Which makes Moose not exactly a prisoner – but he does have to follow the warden’s rules, miss baseball to look after his sister, and put up with the most aggravating girl on the planet, Piper Williams (the warden’s daughter).

Moose Flanagan is a richly complicated main character. He’s passionate, protective, and wise beyond his years.  Watch as he handles everything life throws him in a raw, human way. Some things irritate him beyond belief; he adjusts. Others terrify him; he thinks quickly and, although it may take a while (and a lot of courage), he does the right thing.

He is especially concerned with how his older, autistic sister Natalie adjusts to life – both at the prison and in general. It’s a sweet, sometimes tumultuous dynamic that makes the book worth reading independent of the Alcatraz setting and details.

Al Capone Does My Shirts is not just a book about Moose and Natalie and Alcatraz.  It’s a book about family dynamics. It’s a book about sacrifice. About friendship. About the wonderfully weird world of being an adolescent, no matter what decade or prison compound you live in. And it’s loosely based on historical events so there’s loads for middle schoolers to learn as well.

Ever heard of Al Capone? Or Machine Gun Kelly? Or the Birdman of Alcatraz? Famed convicts – hardened criminals – and…laundry washers!

Students and schools (and parents, too) will become absorbed in this story because of it’s multiple, varying strengths. Choldenko transitions between emotion and sentiment and humour flawlessly. Her characters are dynamic, well-developed, and original. If your school is looking for the title to entertain and enrich your middle school population, take them to Alcatraz and invite them to grapple with Natalie and Piper and the throes of adolescence.  They’ll soon learn that being on Alcatraz 80 years ago will still hit them right where they live. Al Capone Does My Shirts will give your school and families plenty to talk about.