Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Al Capone Does My Shirts

by Gennifer Choldenko
read by Johnny Heller

It's 1935 when Moose Flanagan and his family move to Alcatraz Island. His father is an electrician/guard on the island, and the family is hoping to save money to send his older sister, Natalie, to a special school. Moose spends his time wishing he were back "home", but eventually befriends the kids on the island and tries to stay out of the trouble the Warden's daughter is always dragging them into.

I think the title of this book would have drawn me in as a kid - I had a thing for reading about criminals - but I think I might have been disappointed. The book really isn't about Capone at all. He's mentioned, and the kids all want to see/meet him, but he's not a central character.

However, I really did like Moose. He was a good kid. I loved that he took such good care of his sister. Despite how difficult it must have been for him. Mrs. Flanagan drove me crazy. I hated that she put so much responsibility on Moose and was unwilling to allow him to do normal things by himself (like stay after school to play baseball), though I realize it is a totally realistic approach that many parents would have enforced.

My favorite part of the book though was just learning about the island and its little colony. I think I knew that guards lived there, but I never realized that families lived there. It was fun to watch Moose go from fascinated by everything on the island to seeing convicts on the docks and just keep moving. It was day to day life. I also didn't realize that there was a ferry that ran throughout the day to and from San Fransisco. I think I always assumed that supplies were shipped in once a week or something. I pictured Alcatraz to be a sad isolated place, and while it most definitely was for the convicts, it doesn't sound like it was for the rest of the island's inhabitants.

There's a lengthy authors note at the end explaining that the story is totally made up (with a few true events - like the rule that if an inmate hit a ball out of the park it was an automatic out), but that the guards and their children did live on the island. Did you know that Capone opened the first soup kitchen? According to the author's note he did. It is a fairly fascinating little bit of history.


Janssen said...

I was surprised too by how little a part Capone played. Still loved it, though :)

KT said...

Janssen - I am not sure I loved the whole story (I enjoyed it for sure), but I loved (!!) the ending. I thought it was fantastic, and I wish it were true!

PJ and Annie said...

I'm glad you liked it..i've been eyeing it..

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