Sunday, February 7, 2010
I just finished reading Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, a Newbery Honor book. It’s 1935 and Moose Flanagan is twelve. He and his family have just moved to Alcatraz, where his father will work as an electrician and guard. Moose’s sister, Natalie needs a special school, and the only way they can afford it, is to move to Alcatraz. Moose is less than pleased about the move, but soon meets and makes friends with other kids on the island. The warden’s daughter is always up to something and oftentimes, Moose gets dragged into her latest scheme. Famous prisoners of that age were housed in Alcatraz, namely Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly, and others; it purported to hold the ‘cream of the criminal crop’.
It becomes evident to the reader that Natalie has autism. This is in a day and age when most children were institutionalized. Moose’s devotion to Natalie is amazing. He’s forced at one point to give up the thing he loves most, baseball, and take on more responsibility where she’s concerned. He never takes his anger out on Natalie and displays a maturity not seen in many his age. Moose understands there’s no other choice, but is trying to deal with his resentment at his parents for making him do this. His parents are caught up in the fight to find services for a child that so many are willing to turn their back on. They struggle with reconciling their dreams of a typical child and their beliefs of what she’s capable of. Together the family reaches a happy resolution of reality with a hopeful future for all, including Natalie. Before long, everyone is pulling for Natalie, her friends, family and maybe even a criminal or two.
Al Capone Does My Shirts was a wonderful read, crammed full of amazing things. Moose had so much personality and was a wonderful set of eyes to view this story through. It spoke to the importance of family and friends. How much love and belief in a person’s ability can spur them on. It gave a brief glimpse to the darker time, when many considered these children “disposable”, but the strength of one family who refused to go that route and their heart-breaking realization that time marches on. However, more than anything it’s a story of joy in the simple things and love for one another. It’s a story of triumph and acceptance. I can’t wait to read the sequel Al Capone Shines My Shoes!