Study Guide

Al Capone Does My Shirts

By Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Does My Shirts Introduction

Forget everything you think you know about moose, because Moose Flanagan is neither covered in fur, nor does he have ridiculously long legs. Instead, he's just a kid trying to make it in the 1930s… with an autistic sister… and Al Capone for a neighbor. He's living in a whole different kind of wilderness from his four-legged namesakes.

Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko, has been critically acclaimed since it was published in 2004. And when we say acclaimed, we're talking by the Newbery Honor folks. Which is basically like the president of children's books giving you the seal of approval. And it's easy to see why—this book dives into both unusual and usual terrain at once, combining the unusual setting of living on Alcatraz Island while Al Capone's a prisoner there with the totally usual struggles of growing up, particularly with a sister who has some troubles of her own.

This book is equal parts touching and treacherous, and the first in a series by Choldenko featuring Moose and his infamous criminal neighbor. So hop into the way back machine, and get ready for an up close and personal look at life in the 1930s… with Al Capone only a stone's throw away. If you enjoy the ride, there's more where this book came from.

What is Al Capone Does My Shirts About and Why Should I Care?

Okay, so the whole Al Capone element is obviously pretty compelling—who doesn't get excited to read about infamous gangsters?—but Al Capone Does My Shirts dives into much more important territory: namely, autism.

Autism hits really close to home for Gennifer Choldenko. Her sister Gina, whom she dedicated the book to, actually has autism herself. So Choldenko's depiction of Natalie, Moose's autistic sister, isn't just a throw away element of the plot; it's a major component to this story.

In the 1930s, doctors and medical professionals didn't know all they do now about autism and other disorders, and it's really rough going for Natalie and her family that wants to protect her and help her have the best life possible. Choldenko really explores how hard having autism can be, for both the person affected and those who care about them. And since autism is a major issue these days—in 2014, the Center for Disease Control estimated that one in sixty-eight children is diagnosed with some form of it—gaining an appreciation for the realities of living with autism is super important. Plus, it'll help you see how far we've come.

All the bells and whistles about Alcatraz being a big deal prison are ultimately just to get your attention in this book. At its heart, amongst other things, is autism and all the troubles and triumphs that come with it. The story might be set during the Great Depression, but its exploration of autism is about as timely an issue as possible for readers these days.

Al Capone Does My Shirts Resources

Websites

All Things Choldenko
For everything about our author—including, as she puts it, "stupid author photos"—check out her home on the web. There are answers to frequently asked questions, info about her other Alcatraz books, and much more to be found here.

For You History Buffs Out There…
Here's an awesome little history lesson on the infamous Al Capone, courtesy of none other than the FBI. He was one bad dude, that's for sure, though he met a pretty meager ending.

Welcome to the Rock
For all things related to Alcatraz's time as a penitentiary, look no further than this site. We're talking diagrams, inmate rosters, photos—everything to satisfy your curiosity.

Video

Who You Callin' Amateur?
What would you put in a trailer about this book? Check out one reader's work, and see if you agree with what they put together. One thing's pretty certain: Piper would approve of the music.

Straight from the Horse's—er, Author's—Mouth
Get the scoop on everything from reading to family to how she never turned 13.

Images

You Can Call Me Al
Curious about Capone? Click on through to check out this infamous criminal's FBI mug shot.

In Happier Days
No one likes being locked up—even notorious criminals. To glimpse Capone in happier (a.k.a. freer) times, check out this link.

Check Out My Medal
Here's the cover of our book, complete with it's snazzy Newbery Honor award.

One Way to Be Remembered
Capone wasn't the only famous convict to spend time on Alcatraz Island. Check out this pic featuring him and some of the other famous dudes to be locked behind this prison's bars.

The Island, the Rock
Not sure why Alcatraz is often referred to as the Rock? This picture should clear that up for you in no time.