Al Capone Does My Shirts
|Set in||Alcatraz Island, near San Francisco in 1935|
|Published||Puffin; Reprint edition (April 20, 2006)|
|Awards||Newbery Honor selection, California Young Reader Medal in 2007|
|Followed by||Al Capone Shines My Shoes|
Al Capone Does My Shirts is a historical fiction novel for young adults by author Gennifer Choldenko. In this story, Moose Flanagan and his family move from Santa Monica to Alcatraz Island. The move was caused by the father's new job positions as an electrician and as a guard in the well known Alcatraz prison. The book was named as a Newbery Honor selection and in 2007 it received the California Young Reader Medal. It has two sequels, Al Capone Shines My Shoes and Al Capone Does My Homework.
Moose Flanagan and his family composed of father Cam, mother Helen, and sister Natalie move from Santa Monica to Alcatraz Island in the 1930s. The move was caused by Cam's new job as an electrician and guard at Alcatraz prison. The Flanagans pretend that Natalie, who is fifteen and has autism, is only ten in hopes gain her admission to the Esther P. Marinoff School, an off-island school for children with mental illness directed by a Mr. Purdy. This lie is encouraged by Moose's mother, who believes that the Marinoff School is Natalie's only hope for a cure and wants to avoid sending Natalie to a mental institution. Due to his parents' hectic work schedules Moose is left with almost full responsibility of Natalie while he is also trying to fit in at his new on-island school. Natalie is accepted into the Esther P. Marinoff School, but is sent back home almost immediately because she's having trouble adjusting to the school. Moose's mother and Natalie's new psychologist, Mrs. Kelly, push Moose to take full care of Natalie and to take her everywhere he goes to help improve her social skills.
Moose becomes friends with the warden's daughter, Piper, who regularly gets into trouble in her attempts to earn money to get off of Alcatraz. Piper talks him into being part of her money making schemes, having inmates on the island do laundry for the kids at school. When the scheme flops and the Warden hears of it, the children are punished and have to find a new way to spend their time. In an attempt to gain acceptance, Moose hangs around the prisoners' rec center in hopes of finding stray baseball for use in games with the other kids. Moose eventually notices his older sister Natalie developing a relationship with convict 105, also known as Onion, who is trusted and able to roam freely because his sentence is almost up. Onion knows Moose has been looking for a baseball, gives Moose a ball. Scared of his sister hanging out with a convict, Moose is only reassured because of his confidence that she will be re-accepted to the Marinoff School. Moose and his family's hopes are crushed when the school rejects Natalie. Desperate to help Natalie, Moose decides to take a risk with the help of Piper and writes a letter to the infamous criminal Al Capone, who works in Alcatraz's laundry. The letter asks Capone to pull any strings he has to help Moose's family get his sister back into school. Within days, Natalie is accepted into a new branch of Esther P. Marinoff School for older children. The next day Moose is getting ready for the day when he finds a note in the sleeve of his shirt with the word "done" underlined.
Kirkus Review gave the book a positive review, stating "Choldenko's pacing is exquisite, balancing the tense family dynamics alongside the often-humorous and riveting school story of peer pressure and friendship." Miranda Doyle of The School Library Journal says "The story, told with humor and skill, will fascinate readers with an interest in what it was like for the children of prison guards and other workers to actually grow up on Alcatraz Island."  Ed Sullivan of Booklist states in his review, "With its unique setting and well-developed characters, this warm, engaging coming-of-age story has plenty of appeal, and Choldenko offers some fascinating historical background on Alcatraz Island in an afterword." 
In 2011, the book was adapted as a stage performance at The Children's Theatre of Western Springs .
- Doyle, Miranda, et al. "Al Capone Does My Shirts (Book)." School Library Journal 50.3 (2004): 203-204. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
- Choldenko, Gennifer. "Al Capone Does My Shirts (Book)." Booklist 100.11 (2004): 976. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.