Al Capone Shines My Shoes
by Gennifer Choldenko
Thanks to a friendly marketing associate at Penguin, I was privileged to receive an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Though the published form of the book will have corrected some misprints - a few serious enough to disrupt the flow of the text - I am confident that folks who loved the Newbery Honor book Al Capone Does My Shirts
will love its sequel. It may even bring new fans to Choldenko's work. It is a warm, powerful, sometimes exciting, always thoughtful story about a kind boy growing up on the prison island of Alcatraz in the 1930s. Less emotionally crushing than the first book, it lets us see beloved characters moving forward with more hope in their lives... though still with many complex and even dangerous problems.
Moose Flanagan tries hard to be all things to all people. He wants everyone to feel good. It's a mature outlook for an eighth grader, perhaps, but he realizes that it's a small island and everybody has to get along. He could be the glue holding everyone together. But at times in the fall of 1935, he feels as if everyone is angry with him. His island best friend, the brainy Jimmy, is put out by Moose's city friend Scout, who is good at baseball. His other best friend, the tomboyish Annie, is mad because Moose favors the warden's daughter Piper. Piper is always mad at Moose, in a way that keeps him off-balance. Away at her special school, Moose's autistic sister Natalie is upset because he doesn't visit her. Some of the prison guards who work with his father push his good manners to the limit. When Moose begins to worry that legendary gangster Al Capone might get angry with him, he breaks out in hives.
Why should Scarface get mad at Moose? It all has to do with a favor. Natalie didn't get into her school without help. Now the notorious crook wants something in return. Alcatraz inmates are not to be trifled with. Nor will Moose's father keep his job for long if anyone finds out that Moose is exchanging notes with Capone through the prison laundry.
Baseball, puppy love, changing family relationships, worries about a creep in Natalie's past, and the subtle play of politics among the prison guards and their families add layers to Moose's growing pains. Moments of crisis and hours of suspense alternate, before and after Natalie comes home for a week-long visit. Somebody is having a baby. Somebody may be dying. Somebody may be trying to break out of prison. The kids who will make the difference between life and death are not always on good terms with one another. They don't understand each other, trust each other. Until one foggy day when a quietly growing plot matures into an hour of frenzied action.
This story is fiction, but it is based on some amazing facts. Perhaps even more than Al Capone Does My Shirts, this book takes a swing at everything a young reader could want: excitement, romance, emotional depth, compassion, a sense of historical realism, and a myth-making harmony of material and shape. Told in the first-person and the present tense, it brings the reader right into Moose Flanagan's moment, right into his heart. The world through his eyes looks wonderful, and the language he thinks in is crisp, vivid, and memorable. In a lonely little world apart, a small community grows up to decorate one's imagination. It is a world I, for one, would love to visit again.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 11+
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