My Thoughts About Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (Book Review #18)

I really don’t know why I bought this book. There are just times when you enter a bookstore and go out with a book in hand not knowing what happened inside and why you have that book in your hand.


My copy of the book.

The best reason that I can think of why I bought the book is because it has an appealing title. “Al Capone Does My Shirts”, how appealing is that with the map of Alcatraz on the cover plus it has the Newberry Honor seal too. Well, I guess those things got me buying this book.

I am glad I did.

Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay, 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco, California. It is where the Alcatraz prison is located where the most notorious and hardened of criminals are imprisoned. The author added map of Alcatraz inside the book for the readers to better visualize the setting.

Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone was an American gangster known for his brutal acts of violence. He was imprisoned in Alcatraz island during the period that Moose’s family lived there.

The novel is a work of fiction but it is historically correct.

The books follows the story of a 12-year old boy named Matthew “Moose” Flanagan who lived with his family (along with 60 other families where one or two of the heads of the family work in the prison) on Alcatraz in the 1930s. This was his adventure to stay out of trouble and be wary with the watchful eye of the warden. This was Moose’s story learning the ropes and keeping up with the changes made by their transfer to Alcatraz island. This was also Moose’s family’s story keeping up with the changes around them and how they deal with it.

Moose live’s with his father, who works two jobs (as prison guard and electrician) at the island to keep with the family’s financial dealings and whom Moose share the love of baseball. He also lives with his mother, whose unconditional love to his children, especially with Natalie, is oftentimes misunderstood even by his own family. And lastly, his “ten-year old” sister, Natalie, who has mental issues. (Autism was not yet named as such during those times).

The readers will be taken to how their mother would do everything to try to even at least have Natalie live a decent normal life like the others but always ending up failing, starting by trying to get her into a special school which along the way hurts, in many other ways, all the family members affecting their connection and bond as a family.

The novel also narrated how Moose kept up with his sister Natalie. How he, at his young age, sometimes question the decisions his parents made and how he was able to cope with school and his friends in the island with Natalie always beside him.

The central theme of the book is about the complications of loving someone. Sometimes we do things that we might associate with loving but others may not understand. It also depicts how we sometimes have to forget ourselves just to deal with things that we know we should understand but at times already too much for us to handle. Moreover, it also discusses the uniqueness in everyone and how we, sometimes, just needs to accept it rather than enforce the thing that we want them to be.

The author was able to use the characters in an effective way making one feel the unique and in-depth replationship of each of the characters. I like how the author was able to connect the characters to its readers and how the emotional connection was so present.

The novel is unique in its own way (with added plus for its originality of setting 😉 ). It was a fast-read and simple. I like how short the chapters are making it very easy to read. The narration was good, same as with character and world building. The author was able to write like an adolescent going througn the mind of Moose for the writing was so youthful. This book is intended for middle grade readers but it definitely transcended beyond that. Topics of jails and autism were discussed in a way that were light but with depth.

Two-thirds in reading the book and I haven’t had a glimpsed yet of Al Capone interacting with any of the characters and it will only be until the end that I got a glimpse of him as he was exchangign correspondence with Moose. The ending was well executed.

Well, so how did the book got its title? Let’s just say a little rat came up with this idea to make money by advertising that prisoners can wash your clothes. Who would definitely not brag if Al Capone did wash your clothes? 😉

I learned after finishing the book that this book is the first in a trilogy (the second being Al Capone Shines My Shoes and the third Al Capone Does My Homework) . I’ll definitely read the second and third in the installment as for what I read it just got better and better after the first book.

Overall, it was a good and sweet, well researched, light and funny read. Great historical fiction.



The map of Alcatraz Island inside the book.

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