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Tales from Alcatraz #1

Al Capone Does My Shirts

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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.

225 pages, Paperback

First published March 30, 2004

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About the author

Gennifer Choldenko

26 books651 followers
There’s a Lego in my bum which fits with the Lego in my chair and when I sit down to write, I hear the satisfying snap of the two pieces fitting together. I love words, dictionaries, thesauruses, sharp pencils, the smell of book ink and the delicious art of carving out sentences on clean white paper. I love to slip into another person’s skin and feel what it’s like to live another life. I love when characters come to me out of nowhere and make me cry so hard my mascara runs or laugh until my stomach hurts. I love the crazy fun and infinite possibility of storytelling.

What prepared me for a life of writing fiction? Though I have a BA from Brandeis University in English and American Literature and a BFA in illustration from Rhode Island School of Design, the true answer is probably genes. I come from a long line of Irish storytellers on my father’s side and theatre people on my mother’s. I always knew I loved to write, but it took me a long time to summon the courage to chase the dream. I finally went for it when I realized I would prefer to be a failure at something I wanted to do, then a success at something I didn’t.

While I was pretending I wasn’t a writer, trying to be a nice person with a nice quiet job somewhere, I sold lingerie, lipstick and lamp shades. I wrote junk mail. I taught visually and hearing-impaired kids horseback riding. I held a prestigious job in rubbish removal and I worked in a factory wearing a paper gown while wielding a large mallet on small serving packages of ketchup.

One Third Nerd, my funniest novel yet, is due out in January 2019. My most famous novel, Al Capone Does My Shirts, garnered 20 awards, one of which was the Newbery Honor. The Tales of Alcatraz series has sold more than 2 million copies. What will probably be the last book in the series: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve is the best of the fifteen books I’ve written so far.

I am a fitness fanatic; a book-obsessed, tennis-playing woman who thinks like a twelve-year-old. If I ever get the good fortune to meet you, offer me coffee and I will be your friend for life.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,209 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 318 books399k followers
November 8, 2013
I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, and I’m glad I finally got the chance. It tells the story of 12-year-old Moose Flanagan, whose family moves to Alcatraz in the 1930s when his dad takes a job as a prison guard. The first-person narration is beautifully done. I loved the humor and the relationships between the characters. We assume Al Capone will have a role to play in the book, but it’s not clear what that role will be until the very end, when we get a Gangster ex Machina resolution. It certainly left me wanting to read the sequel, if only to see if we get more about Capone.
Profile Image for Carol.
151 reviews4 followers
December 17, 2008
With a name like Al Capone Does My Shirts, I was settled in for a good light read, not. Not that it isn't an easy read but there is pathos in this story of Moose Flannagan. Moose is the brother of a severely challenged sister, Natalie, who cannot function in society and is sometimes entombed in her own frightening world to the exclusion of even her family.
Moose's father is a prison guard/electrician on the island of Alcatraz. His mother takes a boat to San Francisco most days to teach piano and Moose is in charge of head strong, not to be sidetracked Natalie. How many ways can you spell trouble??? I identified in ways most readers wouldn't with this story because I am the mother of a disabled young adult. I never went through what Natalie's mother went through, looking for a cure, but I think I know that a disability effects everyone in the family. I spent weeks when Jami was little going to the doctor up to three times in a week. There is no way all that time and attention on one child does not take away from the others but you do what you have to do. I like to think that our experience has made our other six children more compassionate people. And a special note to Jeff, my knight in shining armor who spent most of his weekends his junior year babysitting so Mom could get out and socialize - you are my Moose, thank you for all your goodness, love, Mom
Profile Image for Jessica (thebluestocking).
911 reviews20 followers
October 29, 2007
I had to read this book once I learned that it is about little kids who lived on Alcatraz in the 1930s. Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to purchase Alcatraz Island and live there. (Plus, it's a Newberry Honor Book, so it sort of counts towards my goal.)

The book centers around a family: a mother, a father, a "ten" year old sister, and a twelve year old brother, our protagonist, Moose. The family has just moved to Alcatraz Island where the father works around the clock at two jobs so that the sister, Natalie, can attend a prestigious and expensive school for children with mental issues. Natalie has what would today be called autism.

Moose Flanagan's view of life perfectly depicts the struggle between loving someone and half wanting them to go away. He loves his sister, but she complicates his life in ways that most twelve year old boys don't have to deal with. Also, he illustrates the loneliness of the "okay" sibling. All of the family's resources and time seem to be poured into Natalie, leaving Moose with many responsibilities and few perks.

The feeling of this book stayed with me--mostly via the setting. The images of children on the island, taking a boat back and forth to school everyday, lingering just beyond the field where the prisoners play baseball, hoping to catch a ball, having their laundry done in the prisons.

So, the phrase is overused, but "heartwarming" definitely applies here.
Profile Image for Karina.
802 reviews
February 17, 2022
"Once she sent away for voodoo dolls and carefully followed the instructions some witch doctor in the West Indies wrote about how to relieve Natalie's condition. Another time she took Natalie to a church where everybody stood up and waved their arms. She read the Bible to her for two hours every day while Natalie sat staring at her right hands if there were a movie playing on her palm and she couldn't bear to pull herself away." (PG. 67)

Newbery Honor Book-- 2004

I really enjoyed this kid's book. The premise is intriguing to me as I love history and old time crimes.
The title! Imagine living on Alcatraz at the same time as Al Capone. Then you find out he washes, mends, and folds your clothes. What stories you could tell for the rest of your life!

Twelve-year-old Moose moves to Alcatraz, from Santa Monica, California, with his autistic sister, mother, and father. His father gets a guard job on Alcatraz while his mother tries to get his sister, Natalie, into a "great" school helping young kids in her condition.

If I could say why I preferred 'Al Capone' over 'Rules' I would say I saw more character development in Moose and he was a likable kid. The author gave him a great sense of humor and great character traits. Natalie was also seen to get help and grow. They both had stable lives and the parents were very involved in their growing up.

The only thing I found sad, but understandable, was how the mother wanted Natalie "fixed" rather than be helped. I don't think in 1935 autism was a thing anyone knew how to diagnose and these kids were sent to mental institutions or hidden away. But Mrs. Flanagan never gave up on Natalie regardless of the era, which I loved about her. She's a ride or die momma.

The Author's note was as interesting as the book itself. She has stories from people who lived on the island from 1934-1963 when an inmate described it as "a maximum-security, long-term burying ground for convicts of particularly vile renown."

Interesting Facts:
Between 50-60 families lived there at any given time
Nine babies were born on the island.
Some children lived their entire childhood there
No children were ever hurt or taken hostage
People preferred living there rather than San Francisco bc rent was cheaper (Depression year-1935)
Kids took a boat to school to San Fran
Al Capone was the most famous resident
Convicts played softball and handball but Capone preferred baseball.
Al Capone's mom set off the metal detector with her corset and had to strip down

I have just ordered the series at the library because I really liked Moose and I want to see what becomes of him and Alcatraz Island.
Profile Image for Deacon Tom F.
1,701 reviews129 followers
October 1, 2020
A Fun book. I really enjoyed this story! A fast paced lark for teens.

Lots of laughs. I received a recommendation from my grandkids and I recommend it to you
Profile Image for Sarah Swann.
710 reviews980 followers
March 16, 2023
This was a fun one. Honestly, I was hoping for actual Al Capone interaction and that wasn’t there. I kept hoping that would happen or be a big scene. I didn’t like Piper at all and got frustrated at the constant attraction even though she proved to be awful.

I did love the autism representation and how it showed the handling of it during that time period. Autism wasn’t a diagnosis during this time so you see people trying to figure out how to care for Natalie. Overall it was good.
Profile Image for Julia M.
10 reviews1 follower
July 30, 2008
I absolutely adore this book! Initially, I had to read it for a children's literature class two years ago, but I chose to pick it up again recently because I loved it so much. The story is about a young boy named Moose and his experiences growing up as a prison guard's son on Alcatraz during the 1930's. Moose's younger sister Natalie has special needs, and although her specific diagnosis is unknown, we as readers can assume that she is autistic. Moose's life is made even more interesting when he begins corresponding with Al Capone, one of the most notorious gangsters ever imprisoned on Alcatraz.

This is perhaps one of the most unique stories I have ever read, and I think that the whole coming-of-age theme ties in nicely with Moose's struggles to accept Natalie's differences. I am definitely planning on using this book in my classroom this year, and I can't wait to see what my students think!
Profile Image for Jinky.
538 reviews8 followers
September 30, 2010
I don't agree with the enthusiasm for this book. A Newbery Honor, really? At least it didn't win.

I wanted to like this book. A story about families living on Alcatraz where the worst of the worst convicts reside was alluring. But this book just didn't cut it. The characters developments were horrid. Moose was wishy-washy, Piper incredibly reckless, and the adults were idiots. The only character that the author got right was Natalie. Plus, the whole 'let's see how close we can monopolize Al Capone' story line was weak in aligning with the characters. This is where I wish I was articulate because I want to spell out how the characters broke this book for me and therefore how silly the story became. ~Anyone out there that has read this book and see what I see and can help effectively describe the bazaarness? Oh well, maybe it's just me.

**Find this review and more at Jinky is reading
Profile Image for Luisa Knight.
2,727 reviews682 followers
November 9, 2022
I really wanted to like this one. I visited Alcatraz a few years ago and saw this book in the gift shop. I thought it’d be a fun and interesting read about a family living on the island. Instead, it was pretty disappointing. I’m not sure that all of the crooks were contained behind the prison walls; at least one (the warden’s daughter) was living at large. A chronic liar and manipulator, she bullied most of the kids living on the island into doing what she wanted, including some things that her father had forbidden.

The family that the story centers around is pretty dysfunctional. The mother lies and manipulates, which the father goes along with for the most part (occasionally they’ll get into a fight, but he eventually backs down). The son is usually angry, bitter, or upset at his mom because she seems to only care about the welfare of her mentally challenged daughter. She often asks her son to watch over the daughter, “take her along with you and your friends,” which the son resents. During one of these outings, he looses track of her for a time, only to discover her talking to and holding hands with a convict. At first he’s worried sick about what the convict might have done when they were alone but the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that “it’s terrible and it’s good.”

It doesn’t end with the family learning how to overcome life’s challenges together; no, that would be too good. Instead, it ends with Al Capone saving the day. That’s right – the convict.

And of course aside from all of this, is the name calling, the brother seeing his sister naked one day and the father giving his son a beer. There’s more, but why go on.


Children's Bad Words
Mild Obscenities & Substitutions - 30 Incidents: scr*wy, shut up, darn, s*cker, stupid, h*ck, sh*cks, Jeepers, dickens

Name Calling - 17 Incidents: retarded, stupid, C*ckamamie, big baboon, chicken, slime, old coot, idiot

Scatological Terms - 3 Incidents: cr*pper, bl**dy (as in lots of blood), stupid turd-covered

Religious Profanity - 12 Incidents: For Pete's sake, goodness' sake, cripe's sake, thank God, oh my God, Sweet Jesus, Jeez, chrissake, Gee

Religious & Supernatural - None
Violence - None

Romance Related - 27 Incidents: “What they say about females being the weaker sex is the biggest lie in the world.” “My face turns red just seeing her. She’s a looker. If Pete were here, he’d whistle.” A father teases a boy about liking a girl. The warden mentions how women on the island are only allowed to wear modest attire. “Some of these convicts have not seen a woman in ten or fifteen years. You’re old enough to understand what that means.” A boy is upset that some girls didn’t stick around long enough to watch him bat. A boy gives a girl a big hug. She says, “No slobbering!” A girl goes into the bathroom, takes off her slip and wants it washed by the convicts but she’s told it is too personal of an item. A girl is wearing a bathing suit (which is not allowed) and her brother say, “You’re a girl, Natalie, and … you’ve got… girl parts you have to keep covered up.” She then takes it off and is totally naked. People can see a girl’s ruffled underwear. A woman is strip-searched for weapons. It mentions her corset. A boy says he thinks a girl is cute. Another boy gets mad and slightly jealous. A boy remembers what the warden said, “Some of these convicts have not seen a woman in ten or fifteen years. You’re old enough to understand what that means.”
“Even as upset as I am right now, some part of me registers how cute she is.” A boy explains that a convict whistled at his sister. He is worried that this could be dangerous but the mother thinks it’s great. A boy tells another boy that a girl is googly-eyed over him. The mentally challenged girl disappeared for a few minutes and the brother finds her with a convict. It troubles him that he doesn’t know what happened. A friend says, “She’s not pregnant, right? … You do know about the birds and the bees, don’t you?” (she is not pregnant and as far as explained, nothing happened).
A boy notices a girl’s “cut little movie star mouth. That long straight hair.” A girl holds hands with a convict. A girl is holding a convicts hand (he is much older than she is). The brother thinks this is terrible and it is good. A father teases his son about a girl. A father winks at his son and says, “girl trouble.” A father says, “walk your friends home, please … Or should I say your harem.” Later a friend says, “goodnight, you two” teasing about the boy and girl being together. “I want to be here like I want poison oak on my private parts.” A girl looks at an ink blotch on a boy’s pants, right next to his fly. Regarding nervousness: “You start thinking, you get your drawers all in a twist.”
“Umbilical cord. And shut up about Mom’s privates.” “Bosoms like two jiggling watermelons.”

Attitudes/Disobedience - 34 Incidents: A boy argues with his mom, saying it isn’t fair that his dad spends time with his sister but not him. A boy doesn’t like to get in trouble and says it’s a curse.
A girl asks if a boy’s sister is retarded. The boy wants to give her a pounding. A boy has a difficult time getting along with/understanding his mentally challenged sister. One day he got so mad he didn’t talk to her and she cried for two hours. A boy wants his sister just to go away. A boy is angry at his dad, mom and friends - just angry for having to move and tells of a time he was angry at his sister. A boy is teased about being in seventh grade a second time. Lying: a boy lies twice. A boy doesn’t tell his mom it’s a half day at school so that he can do what he wants. “I don’t even care if my mom gets mad at me for coming home late.” A boy doesn’t want to do something bad that his friends want him to. They call him a “nice little church boy.” “Sitting in Mr. Purdy’s office, I imagine punching him in the nose.” Lying: the mother lies, saying her daughter is ten (when she is not) so that she will be accepted to a special school. (This lie comes up several times). A boy wants to ask the dad’s permission first, but the daughter doesn’t want to as she knows her dad will say no. “But no one here sticks to those stupid rules. You’re the only one.” A girl twists the rules so she can do what she wants. A boy lies, making up stories about convicts to entertain kids and get them to give him money. A boy yells at his mom, thinking that “sometimes she needs reminding that I’m not five anymore.” Later he goes to his room, “happy to have an excuse to put a door between” him and his mom. “Mom, nobody takes his sister with him everywhere he goes.” The son and mother then get into a discussion about having a sister tagging along everywhere. Lying: a girl lies saying something is a science project when it is not (she lies throughout the entire book). A boy hates when his mom says, “I told you so.” A boy gets into a fight with his mom. A boy disobeys his mom and doesn’t feel sorry about it. A girl lies and gets other kids in trouble. A father accuses his son, somewhat unjustly and they argue. A girl tells another girl that she could get out of going to church if she wanted to (this is so she could help her with a scheme). “Mom is going to kill you!” “Who says she has to know.” A boy lies. A boy feeling like slugging a girl. A boy lies and then tells a girl “Go cram your head in the cr*pper.” A boy says he hates his sister. “I’m suddenly so angry at my mother, I can barely speak.” A boy wants to sneak a letter into the mail to a convict (this is not allowed). When a boy discovers a girl lied, she calls it “saving face.” A boy lies.

Conversation Topics - 18 Incidents: Mentions rapists. “They even have a cr*pper in each tower so the guards don’t have to come down to take a leak.” “I had gone to take a leak…” A girl is mentally slow and has behavioral issues. She throws tantrums often to get her way (often times because she doesn’t know how to communicate). She is very good with numbers. (Her behavioral issues are throughout the entire book). Mentions that Capone “beats the traitors to death with a baseball bat.”
A boatman says “We don’t wait for nobody. Even God himself has to get down here on time.” “She’s got one good boy, why not focus on him? But no, she goes on these wild-goose chases. It’s too bad the child is sick. But cut your losses. No use throwing good after bad.” Two parent fight and the mother shoves the father. A mom tries everything to improve her daughter’s mental illness, including a voodoo doll and reading the Bible for two hours every day. Mentions a child who screams like a banshee. A girl says, “Promise swear to God … Double swear to God.” Some characters smoke a cigarette. A mother continues to lie about her daughter’s age and her son questions this. They get into a fight. A father gets a beer for himself and for his son who drinks it.
The son asks the dad why he always does what the mother says (implying he’s not the head of the house). Parents get into a fight. A boy confronts his mom about her lying (the mother apologizes about her lying). “My mom’s done a million of things to help Natalie. The aluminum treatments, the voodoo dolls, UCLA, the psychiatrists, the Bible readings… What good were they?”

Parent Takeaway
The family in this story is pretty dysfunctional. The daughter is mentally challenged and this often leads to many fights between the parents and between the son and his parents as they try to cope. The mother lies often, for the sake of her daughter (which her son confronts her on, and later the father). The son's friend, who is throughout the book, is a chronic liar, constantly manipulating her "friends" and her parents to get what she wants. She likes doing things that are against the rules. The story concludes with Al Capone saving the day.

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Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,067 reviews104 followers
August 10, 2021
So yes, althoughI have indeed much enjoyed the historical San Francisco and Alcatraz setting of Gennifer Choldenko's Newbery Honour winning Al Capone Does My Shirts (and absolutely love the non fictional supplementals at the back of the book which if truth be told have in fact been my favourite parts of Al Capone Does My Shirts), personally I have also found some rather massively annoying and frustrating issues with the author's, with Gennifer Chodenko’s story-telling, with her narrational style, resulting in a number of scenarios that have definitely felt more than a bit "off" to and for me.

For one, with first person narrator narrator Moose and actually with regard to many if not even most of the Alcatraz children presented and featured by Gennifer Choldenko in Al Capone Does My Shirts (except for Natalie of course, but she is obviously a special case), while I have most definitely enjoyed being taken into their world, in my humble opinion, their ways of expressing themselves and many of their behaviour patterns often really do tend to feel frustratingly anachronistic (almost as though instead of 1935, when Al Capone Does My Shirts is supposed to be set, the novel reads more like it takes place much later, in say the 1950s or 60s). And yes indeed, even after now having finished Al Capone Does My Shirts, I keep having to check the Goodreads book description for the precise time period, as I still when I think of Al Capone Does My Shirts keep imagining and considering a decidedly post and not a pre WWII tale. For especially how the kids, how Moose, Piper, Theresa, Annie, Jimmy etc. behave, act out and talk amongst themselves and with their parents, and even how many of the Alcatraz adults, but especially Moose's parents, tend to conduct themselves, sorry, but it just does not seem like typical 1930s America, and more like a considerably later time period (and while of course, the type of family dysfunction that is shown with the Flanagans and especially with regard to Moose's mother and her obvious favouritism of Natalie over Moose also existed in the 1930s and earlier, how overtly this is all shown in Al Capone Does My Shirts and by the young twelve year old narrator at that, by Moose Flanagan himself, this feels at least to and for me rather jarring and out of time, in other words, how Gennifer Choldenko has Moose narrate, it just seems too annoyingly modern for a historical fiction novel).

And for two, especially how Moose's mother is depicted throughout Al Capone Does My Shirts and via Gennifer Chodenko’s text (the mother’s clear favouritism of autistic Natalie over Moose, that she basically shoves almost ALL of the responsibilities for Natalie and for much of the household chores and such on Moose without even ONCE considering his feelings, and often reacting very allergically and nastily if ANYONE even remotely tries to call her out, tries to be in any manner critical), while I realise that persons like Mrs. Flanagan do exist in real life, in Al Capone Does My Shirts, I have most certainly been left with the distinct impression that Moose's mother has been created and used by the author as basically and mostly a rather one dimensional and yes almost stock witch-like fairy tale villain type, a character with no or at least hardly any personality and nuances, someone who reads like a blank slate of cardboard except with regard to being negative and grating. And really, even autistic Natalie, Moose's older sister, has in my opinion much more to her in every way than the mother, who to and for me just appears like an annoying buzzing mosquito but who also seems to rule the roost so to speak, a scenario that I for one have found not all that pleasurable to read, as while I do not at all mind negative characters appearing in my novels, and actually often welcome them, if I want to read about one dimensional negativity and nastiness, I will generally tend to peruse fairy and folktales. And unfortunately, especially how Mrs. Flanagan is textually depicted and featured by Gennifer Choldenko, it sure does makes Al Capone Does My Shirts feel more than a trifle on the surface at best, with the deus ex machina ending of Al Capone actually using his influence even whilst in prison on Alcatraz to get Natalie into that special school heightening my feelings of disbelief and of being in a novel that is not all always that realistic and rather majorly artificial in scope at times.
30 reviews3 followers
March 6, 2018
I did not like Al Capone Does My Shirts at all. I thought the plot was too unique to be believable. The characters had all the same traits and I thought the book was really slow. The only problem in the book was how Moose's sister, Natalie, had aspergers and was not being accepted to a special school to make her more socially comfortable. I could see the outcome of the book way before the ending. I did not enjoy this book at all. Overall, I gave Al Capone Does My Shirts one star.
Profile Image for Willow Anne.
404 reviews81 followers
March 24, 2021
I was very happily surprised by this novel. Even though you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, I definitely did with this one (whoops!). I walked past this book at my old library almost every time I went in there, as it was sitting on a spot on the shelf that I passed by nearly every time, but I never actually picked it up because the cover just didn't interest me. But I'm so glad that I read it now, because this book was amazing!

I loved learning a little about Alcatraz, and the most interesting part to me was that families had actually lived there! Alcatraz was a high security island prison off the coast of San Francisco that was in operation from 1934 to 1963. Other than the prison barracks, the island actually had housing on it as well, and the families of the guards who worked there were allowed to rent these apartments for much cheaper than it would cost to rent one in the city of San Francisco itself. "Between fifty and sixty families resided on Alcatraz at any given time", and 9 babies were actually born on Alcatraz, with some children living on the island for their entire childhood. I had never heard of this, and I just found it so interesting that there were people, kids even, who lived on the island of one of the most secure prisons of the time, and they were basically next door neighbors of people like Al Capone, George "Machine-Gun" Kelly, and Robert Stroud. I also found it interesting that the title was actually quite true, as the prisoners were the ones who did the laundry for the families who lived there. The inmates also served as the "garbagemen, gardeners, ... movers and house painters" on Alcatraz, and according to the records of those who had lived there, no one really thought anything of it.

The only thing I didn't really like about this book was Piper. I really don't like those kids who do bad things and convince others to go along with them, but then shift the blame and never get in trouble themselves. It was just so frustrating to watch, but she did slightly improve in the end. Other than that though, this book was really good, and I wish that I had read it sooner. It makes me want to go and read more books on the topic of Alcatraz, and if that's not a glowing recommendation then I don't know what is.
Profile Image for Kristine.
651 reviews114 followers
September 24, 2012
I read this poolside during our SoCal vacation -- and I was pleasantly surprised.

Moose's family moves to Alcatraz where his dad has taken a job as an electrician. He has a "younger" sister who has autism and the family is trying to get her into a special school.

If you think about it there are so many parts of the story that are heart-wrenching . . . the author does an amazing job of making emotional connections with each character. You can see the grief cycle in each member: anger, denial, bargaining, etc. I also loved how she showed Natalie, the sister, as a real person -- one of the few books I've read with a disabled character that really shows you the person inside.

I really felt like I was on the island with them, as well. Having it set on Alcatraz is really cool and you learn a lot about the island in the 1930s -- and of course, it's funny!

After I read the book I just told Darik, "Wow. I love that children's literature can be this good and be entertaining and yet handle "adult issues" (autism, growing up, family relationships, etc.) better than adult literature can a lot of times."
Profile Image for Ann.
392 reviews11 followers
July 23, 2009
This is a really great book. I'd been meaning to read it for years and finally got around to it! Moose Flanagan and his family move to Alcatrez Island where his father works as a guard so that his sister Natalie can go to a special school in San Francisco for kids with disabilities. Today, Natalie would have been diagnosed with autism, but back then they didn't know what to do with her. The author deals with this topic very sensitively and emotionally, because it's based on her own experiences with her sister.

Al Capone is imprisoned on Alcatraz at the time (the 1930's) and amazingly enough there were actually 50 or 60 families that made their residence on the island then. The warden wanted his guards to live close by in the event of a problem, and many of the families considered it a very safe place to live. I had no idea! Moose makes friends with some of the kids on the island, does a lot of growing up, and gets into some trouble. This is a very sweet story.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,045 reviews184 followers
November 5, 2012
Surprisingly upbeat for a book set in the Great Depression and dealing with the subject of autism. From the first paragraphs I realized that this was not the light-hearted, funny book that the title suggested. And yet it was a good wholesome read that left one feeling better rather than worse. This book walks the fine line between tense and funny and yet has heart. It should be a good recommendation for reluctant readers, particularly of the young male persuasion.

Told from a young man's perspective, it in some ways it reminded me of a Walton's episode. Nevertheless, it was a fast engaging read that I'm glad I experienced. It certainly is worthy of the Newbury Honor that it received. It's entertaining and yet one somehow finds toward the end that the author has slipped you a nutritious book as well as an entertaining one.

One wonders what Dickens would have thought of the way convicts were portrayed here.
Profile Image for SARAH.
122 reviews148 followers
August 14, 2022
no because this book gives me flashbacks to when my english teacher paired my class into reading groups and put me in the one with the worst kids who never did any of the work 😑 oh and also where was the plot for this book?
Profile Image for Meghan.
37 reviews5 followers
February 23, 2012
I really enjoyed reading Al Capone Does My Shirts for a few reasons. First of all, it was a very quick read. The writing style was so simple, so it was a walk in the park to read on a Tuesday night. Secondly, the setting and the characters were very interesting. I think many of the characters had unique voices and mannerisms that made them memorable. However, some of the characters weren't very active in the plot and it just left me with questions about their participation in the book. The underdeveloped characters only confused me.

This book really tugged at my heart strings. I couldn't help but feel for Moose's character as his mother forced him to mature sooner than he was ready for. For being so young, he was a huge help to Natalie and she seemed to improve when she was with him. Unfortunately, many parents focus too much on "fixing" their children instead of accepting and loving them for who they are. Because there wasn't a diagnosis for autism during the time period, I understand Moose's mother's frustration with Natalie's illness, but it was difficult to side with her on her actions. I wanted her to recognize Moose's participation in Natalie's improvement. I wanted her to show Moose her love. But it just didn't happen and I felt for him.

I think this book would be great to teach in middle school. The book is interesting enough to keep them engaged and has plenty of underlying themes to spark conversation in the classroom. Moose's relationship with Natalie alone could be a class-long discussion among the students. This book would also be a great history lesson for students who have never heard of Alcatraz. I love the idea of the map in the book to help readers visualize the events and places that Choldenko writes about.
Profile Image for Sophia.
Author 5 books329 followers
July 5, 2021
I had a blast listening to the audio of book four in the Al Capone at Alcatraz series so I was eager to go back and get the earlier adventures of Moose Flannagan, his autistic sister, Natalie, and the rest of the kids growing up on Alcatraz Island in the 1930's.

Al Capone Does My Shirts opens with Moose and his family moving to Alcatraz where his dad got a job as both prison guard and electrician. His mom teaches music lessons. And, they are there so his sister can get into a special school in San Francisco that might help her.

Moose doesn't want to be there and he struggles getting settled into a new home, life on Alcatraz, Jr. High over in San Francisco, and accepting how things have to be. He's just getting his footing making friends at school and getting into a baseball game, getting tangled up in Piper, the Warden's conniving daughter's schemes when his mom insists he has to watch over his sister while both his parents pick up more work to afford to put Natalie in the special school.

Like with book four, I found the descriptions of family life, life on Alcatraz, the historical setting, the characters, and the plot were quite engaging. People from middle grade through adults would have a good time with this one. I'm definitely going to keep going with catching up on the series.

UPDATE: I re-read this one by picking up the Audiobook edition and enjoyed Kirby Heyborne's narration of this first book where once again I was thrilled to be in Moose Flannagan's 1930's life living on Alcatraz, attending school in San Francisco, and looking after his sister with autism. Kirby Heyborne portrayed all the kids so well along with the adults. I could binge-listen this whole series and yearn for more installments.
Profile Image for Ensiform.
1,337 reviews134 followers
July 10, 2019
In 1935, 12-year-old Moose moves with his parents and autistic sister, Natalie, to Alcatraz Island. Despite his best intentions, Moose finds himself under the sway of the warden's conniving daughter, Piper, which distracts him from the important responsibility of caring for Natalie, and above all keeping her condition quiet. Piper ropes Moose into forbidden stunts like selling laundry done by the inmates to their school’s non-prison-dwelling students. But when Natalie’s condition threatens to end everything Moose cares about, Moose bucks the rules himself by trying to appeal to Al Capone himself for help.

This is a very well-written and enjoyable book. Moose’s personality is complex and rich; he wants to be like the other kids, just playing ball and being “normal,” but he fiercely defends family even as he resents Natalie for her special needs. Natalie, in turn, is painted very realistically; she is neither “high functioning” nor some stereotypical savant, but a young adult with a distinct personality, unable to express herself clearly and more comfortable in her own mind. Their mother is loving and self-sacrificing, but a product of her era, insisting that 16-year-old Natalie is ten and trying everything and anything to make Natalie "normal" so that she will have the kind of future that is socially accepted. In short, Choldenko has created a story that is fantastic to today’s readers because of its setting (Moose cleans his teeth with tooth powder; there is no television; they live on a prison island), but that is also universal due to the familiar stresses and pains of growing up and trying to blend in. Really quite masterfully done.
Profile Image for Hillari Morgan.
308 reviews36 followers
April 15, 2019
1.5 Stars

So disappointing!! I had wanted to read this book for a while, so I was excited when my students chose this as their next read aloud. It didn't take long, however to realize that it wasn't what any of us thought it was going to be.

This story follows Moose Flanagan and it walks you through his life since moving to the famous island of Alcatraz. Moose, along with his rag-tag group of friends, and his sister Natalie - who struggles cognitively - dream about meeting and interacting with Al Capone. While this doesn't really ever happen, it is the line of thinking that you follow throughout the story.

Besides that, and a couple of fits that Natalie throws, that is all that happens. It was long and tedious and I think that we ALL struggled to keep our attention directed at the book.

If you are looking for a text to pick up just to see what life was like in the 1930s, then this may be okay for you. But if you are looking for action, move along, because you won't find it here.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,137 reviews110 followers
January 15, 2016
Read this on the plane before visiting Alcatraz, and it was the perfect introduction. I was reading more for the historical nuggets, but there was a wealth of pitch-perfect human interactions and that was the meat of this book: kids who felt real, and parents who felt real, and an adult who felt just shy of villainy in a way that of course a kid would see the guy, and a fabulous representation of autism in the 1930s. The plot felt a little undeveloped - the book ended so suddenly! - but let's call this an Actual Deserving Newbery Book.

(If you detect any bitterness there, what can I say.)

I was thrilled to see this in the Alcatraz gift shop. Like From the Mixed-Up Files, it does its setting such justice that it's a perfect marriage of place + novel.
Profile Image for Ava Pratt.
31 reviews
February 26, 2018
Moose is a normal boy except for the fact that his sister has Aspergers, she is incredibly intelligent. They just moved to the historic island of Alcatraz and finds that it's not as easy as you think it is. There are many rules that they need to follow, and Moose does the opposite. He recently moved to a different school and is told that his sister isn't doing well in her new class. Things are hard in Moose's new house with moving to Alcatraz and much more.

I gave this book one star because overall Al Capone does my shirts was a very slow read, it was hard for it to keep your attention. Those who love some historical fiction books might enjoy this book. But, I felt it only deserved one star.
Profile Image for Lee G..
11 reviews32 followers
February 28, 2019
This book was great, to say the least. I loved how the characters really felt like they were real. Natalie tells a joke about why does the chicken cross the road. In that joke, she says that his buttons rolled to the other side of the road. She plays with buttons and I have never really seen someone merge someone's issues or addictions into the way they talk and the things that they talk about. It is not a huge revolutionary thing in books but it does matter how you build the character and what they are like. This is a short review but I still love this book. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Laura.
819 reviews240 followers
October 22, 2015
One of the best middle-grade books I have read. It's fabulous! It's both funny and very much tender. It is set in 1935 but very much feels like it's happening at this very moment. The relationship between the main character and his sister is so well done. Absolutely a great read for age 10 and up!
Profile Image for Robin.
1,424 reviews36 followers
December 3, 2008
This big kid adored this book for kids and the audio version with narration by Johnny Heller is superb.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 6 books294 followers
August 23, 2022
Picked this up at my Beach Club book exchange because I liked the title. Turns out to be Young Adult fiction, the narrator a Seventh-Grader, big for his age, called Moose. Set at San Quentin, the Warden’s daughter Piper always sets schemes in action. Moose has a an older sister Natalie who seems younger because she’s autistic,* brilliant with numbers but saying almost nothing. Natalie counts the birds, and obsesses on her button box, as Elly counted fish see saw, and mailboxes when she visited (see note).

The cons joke that it takes twelve minutes to get to Alcatraz (by ferry) and twenty years to get back. The author writes with humor, tinged with wit, as when Moose tosses a baseball, gulls on posts, “They sit watching us like fans”(31). Or when Moose’s mom tries to keep Natalie’s birthday small, “The smile on her face is the one she uses when the parents of an obnoxious piano student ask how he is doing”(187).
Natalie is rejected from the Marinoff School she needs so badly, even after training with Mrs. Kelly who gets her to join in with other students, and even crack a bad joke. In desperation, Moose writes a letter to prisoner Al Capone for his help; the letter includes “I like your mother very much,” since Mrs. Capone, looking like atypical Italian-speaking older woman, had come to visit her son. But she was strip-searched because the metal stays in her girdle set of the “snitch box.” All discombobulated, she refused to visit, got on the return ferry.

Before they moved to Alcatraz, Moose’s dad was a electrician in Westwood, where Moose spent months riding to and from UCLA where they studied Natalie. He rode in the rumble seat of his gram’s car, just as my brother and I did around Norway, Maine in the mid-1950’s. (“Rumble seat” predates cars, evidently the seat over an axle with no suspension.)
Moose’s letter to Capone leads to a unexpected and beautiful ending.

* When I taught at Berkshire Community College (1972), one of my colleagues was Clara Park who wrote the book on autism, Histoire d’Elly, about her daughter whom she brought to our house on Richmond Pond. Clara’s husband taught physics at Williams College, and they lived in Williamstown. Clara later taught there, as did another colleague, Suzanne Graver, whose husband chaired the Williams English Dept. Suzanne late became Dean of Williams College.
Profile Image for Stormi (StormReads).
1,756 reviews159 followers
February 7, 2018
I was looking around on overdrive trying to find some cute MG books to read because I was just in the mood for something light and fun. I ran across Al Capone Does My Shirts and I had heard of it before and forgotten about it so decided to check it out.

I am glad that I did because it was a really good read.

It’s 1935 and Moose Flanagan is twelve years old and his family is moving to Alcatraz Island because his father got a job working as an electrician/guard. Moose thinks this is going to be the worst thing to happen to him and they only moved their because his sister needs to go to a special school.

He meets some interesting characters and makes some good friends so things are not horrible. Piper is the warden’s kid and he spends half his time mad at her and the other half thinking she is kind of cute. He has to watch out hanging with her because she can get him in trouble quicker than anything and if he gets in trouble it could get him and his family kicked off the island.

I thought this was a great coming of age type story and it also deals with a heavier of issue of living with a family member who is autistic. I don’t know many people with autism so I don’t know if it’s accurate but the author has a sister with autism so I am pretty sure it is spot on. I felt sorry for Moose as he loved his sister but she could make him so mad, having to put off doing what he wanted to watch his sister or having to take her with him. He is at an age where taking your sister along with you is not cool, but most of his friends are pretty cool with hanging with her.

The author using a lot of historical facts about alcatraz and puts fictional spin on it that makes it a great read and I think both young boys and girls with enjoy this series. I know I can’t wait to listen to the next one in this series.

The narrator Kirby Heyborne does a great job with this book, he has a really pleasant voice that is easy to listen too. I listened to this on 1.75 speed.
Profile Image for Lilly.
10 reviews
October 26, 2014
I read this book a long time ago, probably about fourth grade. I know it is a great book because four years later, I still remember how much I enjoyed reading this book. I do not remember all the teeny tiny details, but I do remember the brand new perspective I gained from reading this book, a new perspective of people. People do not fit in cookie cutters or molds, every person is unique. To me this book is all about perspective. It explores the different perspectives of people with autism, and perspectives of prisoners in jail, but most importantly it forces you to explore your own perspective on life. It makes you want to take a step back and think about why you see things the way you do. I think that everyone should read this book no matter what age they are or where they come from, because it will make anyone give a second thought to their perspective. It is definitely saying something that this book evoked such deep thoughts in me even as a fourth grader!

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