Al Capone Does My Shirts is a wonderful book for children about life on Alcatraz Island in the 1930’s, which is the time the infamous gangster Al Capone was incarcerated there. This book is a Newbery Honor book for 2005.
Matthew “Moose” Flanagan has moved to Alcatraz Island when his father gets a job as a prison guard in 1935, during the height of the Great Depression. He has a 15 year-old sister who nowadays would be recognized as special needs but in the book is considered handicapped and unfit for society who should be shut away in a mental institution. Moose loves to play baseball and do typical activities 12 year-old boys do. Moose and his friend, Piper, the warden’s daughter, hatch a plot to make money by having the criminals do the laundry of the kids at school. The criminals currently do the laundry of all those on the island so their plan is to slip in the kids’ clothes and claim Al Capone did their laundry.
However, Moose’s world is consumed by taking care of his sister and her needs. His family is trying to get his sister, Natalie, into a special school for children like her. However, she is rejected due to her age. Desperate, Moose writes a letter to Al Capone to pull some strings and get her in. He does.
Cute book. Very historically accurate. Kids learn all about Al Capone and the infamous Alcatraz Island prison. Great writing. Engaging. Fun. Funny. The characters are well developed. Highly recommended.
Two sequels have been written: Al Capone Shines My Shoes where Moose is called out by Al Capone to help him since he helped his sister get into the Esther P Marinoff School and Al Capone Does My Homework where Moose’s apartment is burned and his sister being blamed, he sets out to discover who set his family’s apartment on fire and why. All three books are great reads and a great lesson on siblings caring for one another and standing up for one another. Moose also shows signs of liking girls and he struggles with making new friends and keeping them. The books deal with the discrimination of those kids different from others and the struggles these families faced. Gennifer Choldenko does a fabulous job of narrating a tumultuous time in kids’ lives.