Thursday, June 09, 2005

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts
by Gennifer Choldenko, Johnny Heller (Narrator), 2004

Listening to this book I could hear the sea gulls and feel the chop of the waves beneath the hull of the boat that carried me across the water and back in time. The characters and story begged to be listened to but the real star of this tale is the setting, Alcatraz Island in the year 1935.

Moose Flanagan's family moves to Alcatraz when his father gets a job as an electrician/guard at the famous prison. Moose is homesick and lonely. He must take the boat to the mainland for school each day. His passion is baseball and the game helps him make new friends.

His home life is more problematic. His father works around the clock. His sister Natalie is autistic (although that condition is not identified) and subject to tantrums and unexplainable behaviors. His mother is so driven to get Natalie enrolled in a special school in San Francisco that she is blind to her son's needs.

The unseen presence in the story is the gangster Al Capone who is imprisoned in Alcatraz. The children of the island are fascinated, thrilled and terrified by the convicts. They are obsessed with catching a glimpse of Capone. The warden's gorgeous daughter, Piper is the same age as Moose and seems to have a gift for getting him in trouble.

Choldenko writes with great compassion of the challenges of living with an autistic family member. You admire and ache for Moose as he shoulders the responsibility of watching over his sister when he could be playing baseball in the afternoons. His kindness and love for his sister give the story extra depth.

Johnny Heller's narration is excellent. His voicing of Moose and Natalie are beautifully done. Moose's voice answering "Yes Sir!" to the Warden has lingered in my mind.

Interesting characters, the Great Depression and Alcatraz Island make this one of the most original works of historical fiction I have ever experienced. I loved the ending.

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