Study Guide

Al Capone Does My Shirts Exploration

By Gennifer Choldenko


"The most exciting thing that happened to me this vacation was my mom didn't feel like cooking because our pans were still packed, so my dad brought home a plate of roast chicken, potatoes and cooked carrots…" I pause a minute. This wasn't what I wrote in my outline. I'm going free-form now. "…from the cell house kitchen. It was cooked by a kidnapper, a two-time murderer and a postal robber too!" (7.34)

The kids at school are more than willing to believe that life on Alcatraz is a dangerous adventure, and Moose makes his life sound way more exciting than it actually is when he tells his classmates that he eats the convicts' food. This also shows Moose exploring a side of himself he didn't previously know existed—before he moved to Alcatraz, he wasn't one to tell stories.

"You're going to sell the Alcatraz laundry service? Why?" I ask.

"I just told you why. Money." Piper starts walking again.

"Does your dad know about this?"

She snorts. "Not hardly," she says, taking off again.

"Hey." I hurry after her as she ducks into a doorway. "I didn't say—" (7.54-58)

Piper is always itching to start a new adventure, push a new boundary, and explore something unknown. Moose is quite the opposite, and isn't tempted by dangerous new prospects. But because of the company he keeps, he can't help but get swept into her schemes from time to time.

Annie catches the ball and holds it. She walks up close enough to whisper. "You got to get along with Piper. Otherwise she'll make trouble for you and your dad." (9.63)

Here's an element of intrigue. Moose is warned about Piper, the warden's daughter—Annie tells him that if he gets on her bad side, bad things could happen to him. So in this new world that he finds himself in, she's the bad guy he should avoid.

I'm about to show "Wait up" when Piper says, "Come on, Annie, I've lived around prisons my whole life, but I've never been inside the cell house. All we ever do is watch the cons walk up. Big deal. Don't you ever wonder what it's like in there? We got the biggest gangster in the whole world here. Don't you want to shake hands with Al Capone?"

The laundry plan isn't even finished and Piper's already hatching another? I can't believe her. (15.60-61)

Moose's friends are always coming up with new things to explore. Here, they're breaking into the cell house so in order to get a better view of the prisoners as they walk across the courtyard. Piper's mind is full of ideas like this one. She sees the island as an experience, an opportunity to explore and discover fascinating new things.

My plan is to stay away from her. I helped her get the stupid bags in, now I'm done. But at lunch when I see her in the cafeteria with the laundry bags, I find myself drifting over there. (16.22)

Once you get a taste of adventure, it's hard to go back. Moose has told himself that he's going to steer clear of Piper and her plans, but almost beyond his control, he starts wandering toward her at lunch. She's busy with her laundry service, and though he doesn't know it, Moose doesn't want to miss out.

Another funny thing is how used to living on an island with a bunch of criminals I am. It would seem strange to live with regular people after this. Even when I saw the convicts unload the laundry from the boats, it was boring. Nothing to say about it, really. I got tired of watching after a minute or two. (21.10)

Funny thing. When Moose first moved to Alcatraz, he thought that living with a bunch of convicts was the most exciting thing ever; the possibilities seemed pretty endless. Now, though, he's used to it. He's realized that living on Alcatraz is really like living anywhere else, and it's not even exciting to watch the convicts anymore.

I'll just make it quick, that's all. A couple of seconds to look. One minute, that will be enough. A ball could be sitting right there out in the open, just waiting for me. I know this is a lousy idea. But it doesn't matter. A gap in the fence is a magnet. It just is. (23.53)

Moose likes to steer clear of dangerous adventures, but when an opportunity presents itself, he can't resist. Finding a gap in the fence is pretty much his golden ticket. Suddenly, the possibility of exploring something forbidden is incredibly real and exciting.

"Hey, Moose." The con's voice is scratchy and an octave too high, like a girl's almost. "You want this?" He reaches inside the coat draped over his leg. He has a gun. I can't breathe. He's going to shoot. But then I see. Information seeps into my brain. It isn't a gun.

It's a baseball. (26.8-9)

Moose comes face to face with a convict, and he's so scared that his imagination literally takes over—when the con offers him a baseball, he sees a gun instead. He's been bracing himself for a real adventure for so long that when he has a bite of one, his mind takes it way too far.

"This is amazing!" Piper says, her eyes glowing. I've never seen her so excited. "Think maybe he could get autographs too, Moose? Because Al Capone's signature, that is worth a fortune! This is the beginning, Moose!"

"NO! THIS IS THE END!" I shut the door in her face. (27.51-52)

When Piper finds out that Natalie and Moose have met 105, she feels like she's struck gold. Which is the opposite of how Moose feels, since he's worried for his sister's safety. Piper throws safety and well-being to the wind, though, and can only think of all the amazing (and totally imaginary) possibilities.

"It's dangerous, Mom."

"Dangerous? Nothing on this island is half as dangerous as having her locked in her own world. Not one half, not one fourth, not one tenth as dangerous as that. So, I am not, do you two hear me, NOT ABOUT TO CHANGE ONE SINGLE THING ABOUT NATALIE'S DAY! (28.37-38)

Moose is trying to bring Natalie's exploration to an end because he's worried about her finding and spending time with the convict. His mom argues that the worst thing for Natalie is to be locked in her own mind, unable to reach outside of herself. She says that Natalie needs to be out there exploring the world—just like everybody else.

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