Al Capone Does My Shirts: A Tale from Alcatraz, Book 1

Common Sense Media says

Acclaimed book with mature themes is best for older kids.

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 
Newbery Medal and Honors

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers come away with an idea of what life might have been like in this time and place. They may want to explore the author’s notes and website to learn more about autism, Alcatraz, and American gangsters.

Positive messages

Moose ultimately stands up for himself, his sister, and his family, making his mother realize that the ends don't justify the means (though his means are at times a bit complicated).

Positive role models

Moose doesn't always make good choices -- he goes along with Piper, who deliberately breaks rules with no thought of the consequences -- but he means well, and ultimately is able to do the right thing.  

Violence

There are references to the convicts' crimes -- beating people to death with bats, kidnapping, etc. The kids make up stories about violent incidents, including someone getting "sliced up" with a shiv. Moose fears a convict may have molested his sister, or worse.

Sex

Nothing explicit, but a high level of innuendo: Women must dress modestly and undergarments aren't allowed in the prison laundry because the convicts have had so little access to women; Moose is embarrassed to see his sister naked; Al Capone's mother is so mortified at being strip-searched she leaves without visiting her son.

Language

Typical middle school banter.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Moose, age 12, drinks beer, given to him by his father as a way of bonding.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Newbery Honor Book Al Capone Does My Shirts is set on Alcatraz Island when it was an operating prison. The kids who live there -- and their classmates -- are enchanted with the prisoners and their dramatic backgrounds. There are references to imagined violence, but the bad guys are mostly part of the dramatic backdrop. The story contains some sexual overtones: There are rules on the island designed to protect women living there from the convicts, and close contact between a young girl and a prisoner raises fears that she has been sexually attacked in some way.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Seventh-grader Moose Flanagan has just moved to Alcatraz, where his father is working two jobs to try to enroll Moose's autistic older sister, Natalie, in a special school. Moose desperately wants his family to be \"normal,\" but that's difficult when your older sister acts like a needy preschooler and you live on an island populated with the worst of the worst. His parents are focused on work and Natalie's needs, forcing Moose to fend for himself and his sister. He chafes at his responsibilities and gets caught up in the schemes of the warden's troublemaking daughter, Piper. When he accidentally puts Natalie at risk, however, he finds the courage to help his family come closer together -- and ask Al Capone to help Natalie. Includes labeled photo of Alcatraz Island and an Author's Note with footnotes.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS shines when it grapples with Moose's family on Alcatraz. His parents want to do the right thing but repeatedly fail their son. It's easy to empathize with Moose, who both loves and resents his sister and fears upsetting his desperate mother. The historical setting is enticing and a good symbol for Moose’s own feelings of entrapment.

Readers may wish that the author spent more ink digging into Natalie's relationship with a convict, or exploring the book's mature themes, such as the good and bad in people, or why gangsters are sometimes seen as heroes. But they'll cheer when Moose finally stands up for himself, his sister, and his family, making his mother realize that the ends don't justify the means. Complex moral issues and some sexual overtones push this book toward an older audience.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about public fascination with bad guys. Al Capone was a notorious gangster, believed to have been behind the St. Valentine’s Day massacre and other brutal killings. Why is he such an alluring character to the kids on the island and their classmates? Can you think of any modern day "bad guys" who are equally appealing?

  • Why do you think Al Capone Does My Shirts won a Newbery Honor? Looking at the list of past and present winners, are there other titles that you'd like to read?

  • This story takes place before autism was understood for what it is, when people with autism were usually described as mentally retarded. How do you think attitudes toward autism and other mental disabilities have changed -- or not changed -- since the time this story takes place?

Book details

Author:Gennifer Choldenko
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Penguin Group
Publication date:February 13, 2005
Number of pages:225
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Paperback
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

This review of Al Capone Does My Shirts: A Tale from Alcatraz, Book 1 was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 13 years old Written bycarolinekk5 July 18, 2009
AGENot rated for age
QUALITY
 
hi Im caroline an 11 year old 6th grader and personally i think it was terrible there's basically no point and why is this stupid school on this prison island anyway IT SUX and its not a very good book for kids
Kid, 11 years old April 19, 2009
AGE
7
QUALITY
 

bord!!!

i got really bord and i didn't have time 2 finish it. yawn!
Written byAnonymous March 23, 2014
AGE
13
QUALITY
 
Rated OFF for references to violence and violent crimes, including murder and rape, references to rape and other sexual subject matters.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Essential School Tools