“Al Capone Does My Shirts” by Jennifer Choldenko

Al CaponeDoesMyShirts

Title: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: The year is 1935 and Moose Flannagan and his family have moved to the island of Alcatraz so that his father can work as a guard and maintenance man in the prison. Moose’s older sister Natalie suffers from cognitive disabilities and the family is hoping that a nearby school will be able to improve her condition. As Moose adjusts to life on the island and at his new school, he struggles to find someone to play baseball with and also to stay out of the sights of Piper, the warden’s conniving daughter. When Piper attempts to rope Moose into one of her schemes that would break many of the island’s rules, Moose realizes that trying to fit in with his peers could raise serious trouble for his family.

My Take: I thought that this book was fantastic and wish that I had read it sooner (it was originally published in 2004). The characters are the driving force of the book. As the story progresses, we slowly discover different sides of Moose, Natalie, and the rest of the cast, making them more complicated and more human.

I also thought that Choldenko handled well the setting of Alcatraz. While the island prison is ever present, the author never uses it in a way that feels excessive or contrived. Moose actually never enters the prison and his interactions with the convicts is limited to one individual. Choldenko knows that less is more and her restraint in her choices makes Alcatraz and its prisoners seem all that more intriguing and dangerous. We never meet Al Capone which makes him more mysterious.

I also give credit to the author for shifting the focus of the plot in the second act. Readers slowly realize that this story is not really about Alcatraz, Al Capone, or Piper’s schemes. Rather, this is a book about a young man learning to understand his relationship with his sister and of a family and community learning how to support someone with autism.

One Interesting Note About The Author: The character of Natalie is partly based on Gennifer Choldenko’s sister who had with autism.

Lucky: Maris, Mantle, and My Best Summer Ever by Wes Tooke

It’s the summer of ’61 and Louis May has a lot of new things in his life.  His parents have recently divorced and he and his dad have moved in with his stepmom and stepbrother in White Plains, New York.  It’s an uncomfortable arrangement and Louis constantly feels that he’s getting overlooked.  Baseball is the center of Louis’s life and things start to look up when he is hired on as a batboy at Yankee Stadium.

It is the summer of the homerun race between Maris and Mantle, and Louis is right in the thick of it.  But being a batboy and rubbing elbows with famous ballplayers doesn’t make all of your problems go away at home, as Louis will learn quickly.

I enjoyed this book, but, if you’re not a baseball fan, I would not recommend it.  The plot turns a little too easily on the unbelievable event of being hired as a batboy by the Yankees.  Even worse is a cameo by Bob Dylan later in the book.  I recommend to baseball fans ages 9 to 11.