I consider it great fortune that I just happened to discover an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy – before final edits and polishing for publishing are finished) of this in one of my favorite used books stores in Boone, NC before the book was even published. I read it, loved it, and vowed to make my 7th graders read it as soon as it was published in 2004. Since then, it has been one of my favorites both in and out of the classroom.
Al Capone Does My Shirts is about a boy, Moose, who is forced to move to Alcatraz Island when his dad takes a job working at the prison. Of course, it’s more than a little intimidating being on an island with the most notorious convicts in America, and Moose and the other island kids take full advantage of this when they’re off the island, which lands them in all kinds of trouble and awkward situations.
In this story, Moose is a really interesting character full of wit, intelligence, sarcasm, and integrity. His childhood has mostly consisted of taking care of his “little” sister Natalie, who is actually older than he is but acts younger because of her autism (in the 1930’s, they didn’t have a name for autism, so all they knew was that Natalie was just different). While he sometimes can’t stand the responsibility, it is clear that he’s the one who understands her the best, and so he’ll do anything to help her. What he eventually does do to help her is nothing short of risky business.
A few years ago, Choldenko published a sequel to this called Al Capone Shines My Shoes. I didn’t love it as much as the original, but it was a good follow up for those who want to know more about what happens to Moose and the other characters.
If you haven’t read this, you should! Enjoy it. :)