Monday, September 2, 2019

Reviews from the Children's Section - Al Capone Does My Shirts

One of my favorite genres and one that is the easiest for me to push aside is middle grade fiction. This year to make sure I get a little more children's and young adult fiction I thought I would designate the first Monday of every month Middle Grade Monday (though sometimes it doesn't end up working quite right) .  While a lot of my picks this year are classics I am trying to branch out a little bit and read new or at least recent releases. This month I'm talking about the first in a series that I kind of picked up on a whim and knew very little about it going in.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Blurb:  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.

My Thoughts:  This wasn't the fastest read but it was enjoyable and I really appreciated how sensitively the author handled both Moose and Natalie.  Moose is a good kid who really does love his sister and really does want to help but sometimes he just wants to stay after school and play baseball like a regular kid.  And he feels guilty about it that sometimes.  His family's whole life is spent trying to understand just what is going on in Natalie's head at a time when the term autism might just as well have been a foreign language.  I felt like Natalie was portrayed authentically though we never get a glimpse into her head.  After reading this I was not surprised to learn that the author had a sibling who was on the spectrum.  As a parent I really felt a lot of sympathy for both the parents.  Moose's mother is so wrapped up in "making Natalie better" that she can't see anything else and is so frustrated because she doesn't understand what's going on and everyone seems to have a different answer.  His father is constantly trying to keep the balance all while working a job he doesn't want to be doing with brutal hours.   Having Alcatraz as the background made for an interesting element and had me curious about just who happened to live on Alcatraz in the beginning.  This was an interesting read with a likable main character.  The only thing that really brought it down for me was the character Piper who is just the absolute worst and I kept waiting for her to fall of a cliff or something.  It would have made the book WAY better.

I think this book is appropriate for most readers though I can see a young reader losing interest as the pacing can be a bit slow. 


  1. I adore this series and have enjoyed the first 3 in the series. I’ve listened on audio to all of them. The end of the last one had some author info about life in Alcatraz, and which true info she incorporated.

  2. I LOVE this whole series! I had no idea that there really were kids on Alcatraz and the idea is just super fascinating to me. Choldenko really brings the setting to life. Not all the characters in the books are likable, but I came to care about them all over the life of the series. Glad you enjoyed the first one!

  3. This one is new to me but it sounds really well done. Moose and Natalie sound like really great characters. Too bad you wanted Piper to fall off a cliff :)

  4. This sounds like an excellent read - thank you for sharing, Katherine. Though it's shocking to think that there were children mixing with the hardened criminals there...

  5. How do you explain what rapists and hitmen are to a grade schooler? 🤔 Wouldn't it be better if they were identified as just "criminals"? Then you could just say people who broke the law. 😛