On My Bookshelf: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Cheldenko

September 28, 2020

In Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Cheldenko, when Moose's father takes a job on Alcatraz Island, Moose must learn to navigate new friendships and the attention at the school he attends off the island while taking on responsibility for minding his sister. Read on for my full review and ideas for classroom use.
The basic plot from Amazon: The Newbery Honor Book and New York Times Bestseller that is historical fiction with a hint of mystery about living at Alcatraz not as a prisoner, but as a kid meeting some of the most famous criminals in our history. Al Capone Does My Shirts has become an instant classic for all kids to read!

Today I moved to Alcatraz, 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 are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cooks or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. And then 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.
In Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Cheldenko, when Moose's father takes a job on Alcatraz Island, Moose must learn to navigate new friendships and the attention at the school he attends off the island while taking on responsibility for minding his sister. Read on for my full review and ideas for classroom use.

Why I liked it: I read Gennifer Cheldenko’s middle grades historical fiction novel Chasing Secrets several years ago when it was featured on our Reading Olympics list and loved her attention to details and her choice of relatively unknown events in history. While Al Capone and Alcatraz Island are certainly well known, Al Capone Does My Shirts focuses not on the prisoners, but on the families that lived and worked there.

Moose’s father has taken on two jobs, one as an electrician on the island and one as a prison guard, to help support his family and hopefully pay the tuition for Natalie, his daughter with special needs, to attend an exclusive school. Moose must learn to navigate new friendships on the island and the attention at the school he attends off the island while taking on responsibility for minding Natalie. Moose has good values and good intentions, but hijinks ensue when he gives into petty desires and more serious problems occur when he is given too much responsibility by his parents.

Classroom application: This book is appropriate for middle school and up and has a wide appeal with humor and gangsters, but also insight to life as the sibling of someone who is differently abled. While Natalie's differences are not given a label in the book, by today's standards she would likely be diagnosed as autistic. It was interesting to see who differently abled people were treated nearly 100 years ago. The history of society's view of differently abled individuals could be a possible research topic for students. Students might also be interested in investigating some of the gangsters in the book (and the rest of the series).

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Al Capone Does My Shirts for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

In Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Cheldenko, when Moose's father takes a job on Alcatraz Island, Moose must learn to navigate new friendships and the attention at the school he attends off the island while taking on responsibility for minding his sister. Read on for my full review and ideas for classroom use.

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