Al Capone Does My Homework: A Tale from Alcatraz, Book 3

Book review by
Barbara Lawrence, Common Sense Media
Al Capone Does My Homework: A Tale from Alcatraz, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Moose tries to protect his dad in exciting third in series.

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Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Like the other books in the series, Al Capone Does My Homework: A Tale from Alcatraz, packages historical facts and details of life on "The Rock" in a great read. It's historical fiction at its best, as characters go about their daily lives, playing, going to school, making friends. The kids on the Rock have endless fascination with the criminals who also live there. Annie and Theresa have even made "convict cards," similar to baseball cards, where they list the cons' notorious deeds.The story also gives the reader a taste of living on Alcatraz, as well as a sense of the economic hard times during the Great Depression. Excellent historical notes at the end of the book, as well as the author's website, are filled with facts about Alcatraz, Al Capone, and the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Positive Messages

Although the kids on Alcatraz are very different from one another and don't always get along, there's a strong sense of community necessary when you live on an island. In Al Capone Does My Homework, Moose's autistic sister, Natalie, is blamed for starting a fire, and many of the families rally around her to prove "Just because she is different, doesn't mean she is guilty."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Moose and his friends are good kids but also bend and break rules in trying to solve a mystery and prove Natalie's innocence. What makes these characters so appealing is that they acknowledge this and actually discuss the gray area between following and breaking rules. They also rally around Natalie, Moose's autistic sister (a character series based on Author Gennifer Choldenko's own experiences growing up with an autistic sister). Even though Natalie's "different," they support her and treat her with respect. Choldenko shows Natalie as a girl with innate intelligence and a special gift with numbers -- a skill she uses to catch a crooked card player and solve the mystery of stolen money. It's heartwarming to see how Moose changes from seeing Natalie as a nuisance and burden to respecting her intelligence to decide what's right for herself. This understanding comes only after the embarrassment and struggles of living with a sister with autism. This this insight into the struggles of Moose's family is very touching. The love and compassion he has for his sister, combined with his frustration, make Moose a complex and interesting character. 


A guard is stabbed by a prisoner with a stolen kitchen knife and is rushed to the hospital.  This happens quickly and without a lot of detail or gore. As in the other books in the series, there's also talk of the violent pasts of the gangsters who now reside on Alcatraz. 


Moose is sexually attracted to his best friend Annie, who has grown into a willowy young lady. They mutually decide to kiss each other and enjoy that first kiss -- sweet and age-appropriate. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Al Capone Does My Homework: A Tale from Alcatraz is engaging and interesting, just like the first two books in the series: the Newbery Honor Book Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes. Moose comes into his own as his responsibility for caring for his autistic sister increases. Their relationship develops as he grows to understand that Natalie isn't just a burden, but an intelligent person and his older sister. Moose's best friend Annie also matures and develops from a boxy kid to a tall, willowy young woman. He becomes attracted to her and is both confused and pleased by his attraction (an insightful view into blossoming love. There's one sweet, age-appropriate kiss. The kids on the Rock are intrigued by the convicts as well as afraid and disgusted by their creepy behavior, such as eating live bugs, and their dangerous criminal pasts. There's one incident of violence, when a guard is stabbed by a prisoner with a stolen kitchen knife and is rushed to the hospital. This happens quickly and without a lot of detail or gore.


User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old May 11, 2021

This is a great book

I have no idea why the parents say age 18 but it is definitely not that. it's filled with drama action and a great representation of what it was like on th... Continue reading

What's the story?

It's the beginning of 1936 and Moose's father has just been promoted to the position of Assistant Warden of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. This causes Moose no end of worries, because with the promotion comes danger. Mean guard Darby Trixle is jealous of Moose's dad and feels he was more deserving of the warden job. Additionally, Moose hears rumors that the prisoners try to harm the wardens to score points on a sinister game they play among themselves. When a fire destroys his family's apartment and his autistic sister is blamed, Moose and his friends set out to solve the mystery of how the fire really started. Counterfeit money, a stolen knife, and a card-cheating scheme keep the pages turning in this intriguing story.

Is it any good?

There's a lot of action to keep the reader engaged in AL CAPONE DOES MY HOMEWORK -- involving gambling, a stolen knife, and counterfeit money. In addition, Al Capone adds a sense of style to the story, just as he did at Alcatraz during his time there. Although he plays a minor role in this book, he does give Moose an important clue that helps save his father's life.

Moose is a wonderful character who's further developed in this book as his relationships with both his sister Natalie and his best friend Annie change. Even though he's often embarrassed by Natalie's behavior, as well as tired of his responsibility for her, he begins to see that she has her own wisdom and sense of self. In the end, Moose lets Natalie choose to make an important decision herself. She also uses her special abilities to catch a crook. Annie has changed from a boxy kid to a willowy young lady. It's an interesting twist to see Moose's friendship with her change as he realizes she's more than his best friend and more than a crush.


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss why we are so fascinated by gangsters and their crimes. Shows and movies like American Gangster and Gangster Squad fuel our fascination. Do you like learning about convicts?

  • Moose and his friends are good kids who break and bend rules, like trying to communicate with the convicts. Rules are often made to keep kids safe. Discuss "3 Big Rules Your Kids May Be Breaking Online" and discuss these online rules and laws.  

  • Scout categorizes all girls as either "lookers," "okey-dokeys," or "aunties." How does the way boys view girls affect how girls think of themselves and their body image

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries and coming-of-age stories

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