for Al Capone Does My Shirts
by Gennifer Choldenko
When Moose Flanagan moves to Alcatraz Island so his father can work as a prison guard, he’s concerned about leaving his friends and his baseball team behind. He quickly discovers that living on the same piece of ground that harbors Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone is a whole new ballgame. Along with the children of the other prison employees, Moose takes a boat to San Francisco each weekday to attend school. There the Island kids milk the mystique of their home for all it’s worth, concocting an ingenious scheme that involves smuggling their classmates’ dirty clothes into the prison laundry system—for a price. The humor of Moose’s escapades is balanced with a more serious issue that his family deals with daily: his older sister Natalie has a condition that keeps her from functioning as a typical teenager. Unidentified in this story set in the 1930s, Natalie’s condition would be diagnosed as autistic today. Desperate to find help for Natalie, Moose’s mother insists that her 16-year-old daughter is only ten, an age when she’s still eligible to attend special schools rather than being relegated to an institution. A concluding author’s note describes life on Alcatraz during its tenure as a working penitentiary from 1934 to 1963, solidly grounding this piece of fiction within fact. In a similar vein, Gennifer Choldenko’s sister served as inspiration for the character of Natalie, who is portrayed with respect and intimacy. The author’s dedication reads, “To my sister, Gina Johnson, and to all of us who loved her—however imperfectly.” (Ages 10–14)
CCBC Choices 2005 . © Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005. Used with permission.
Today I moved to 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's my sister, Natalie, except she doesn't count. And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cook's or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. Plus, 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.
Publisher description retrieved from Google Books.