Al Capone Shines My Shoes the second in a series of three books (so far) by writer Gennifer Choldenko in which our protagonist, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan, is living on Alcatraz Island with his family. His father is a prison guard there, and Chodenko uses this closed community setting (with a prison filled with violent criminals) as an intriguing backdrop for Moose and his family and friends.
There a nice mix of humor, and insights about growing up, as well as prison intrigue, particularly when Moose and his friends have to stop a breakout attempt with their wits alone. But what sets this book, and the last one (Al Capone Does My Shirts) apart for me (and my son) is how Moose interacts with his sister, Natalie, who has autism during a time when autistic children were often sent to live “away” at state hospitals. Natalie is crucial to the plot from so many angles, and Choldenko treats her with respect even as the quirkiness of her autism makes her different from those around her.
Much of what Moose does in the story is hinged on protecting Natalie, including an ongoing and uncomfortable interaction with the most famous convict behind bars — Al Capone. I won’t give things away, but Choldenko does a nice job of not giving us too much Capone. What we see in Capone is both dangerous and curious, and Moose himself knows he is out of his league with something that started in the first book and continues as a thread here, with hints for the third book.
Al Capone Shines My Shoes is a perfect read for a middle school student, with rich characters and even richer setting. My son and I — we read it as a rad-aloud — are looking forward to her third book: Al Capone Does My Homework.
Peace (breaking in),