Al Capone Does My Shirts: A Tale from Alcatraz, Book 1
By Matt Berman,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Boy stands up for sister with autism in compassionate tale.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Typical middle school banter.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Moose, age 12, drinks beer, given to him by his father as a way of bonding.
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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.
Where to Read
Based on 7 parent reviews
Wonderful for teaching social citizenship!
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Great Insight into Living with a Sibling with a Disability
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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?
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 tween audience.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about public fascination with bad guys. Al Capone was a notorious gangster, believed to have been behind 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? What's special about this book?
How do you think attitudes toward autism and other mental disabilities have changed -- or not changed -- since the time this story takes place?
- Author: Gennifer Choldenko
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Penguin Group
- Publication date: February 13, 2005
- Number of pages: 225
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: December 13, 2018
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