Al Capone Does My Shirts

This historical book by Gennifer Choldenko is published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group and is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

In 1935, 12-year-old Moose moves with his parents and autistic sister, Natalie, to Alcatraz Island. Moose must cater to the whims of the warden's conniving daughter, Piper, and care extensively for Natalie. Fascinated by the nearby cons — especially Al Capone — Moose, Piper and the other island kids pull crazy stunts to get near the criminals and impress nonisland kids. After Moose's parents fail to get Natalie into a special school several times, Moose decides to enlist the help of Capone himself.

Christian Beliefs

Moose's mother takes Natalie to a charismatic church and reads the Bible to her for two hours a day. This is one of several unsuccessful, temporary "healing" attempts to cure Natalie's autism. Another girl on the island is sent to church daily as a punishment for misbehaving.

Authority Roles

Moose's mom and dad work long hours. They expect much of Moose and require him to forfeit most of his free time to supervise Natalie. They're loving parents, but jobs and concerns for their handicapped child sap their energy. After a hard day, Moose's dad gives him a half glass of beer. As Natalie's authority figure, Moose demonstrates compassion and protectiveness — although as an adolescent, he doesn't always make the wisest care-giving decisions. Warden Williams, the island's chief authority, generally allows his affection for his daughter to blind him to the truth.

Other Belief Systems

Moose mentions that his mother ordered Voodoo dolls in an effort to cure Natalie.

Profanity/Graphic Violence

Infrequent use of darn, cripes sake. Jesus' name used in vain. Some bathroom humor.


Moose worries that an inmate may have taken advantage of Natalie, but these concerns are only implied. Natalie takes off all of her clothes during a brief episode of nonsexual nudity.


Newbery Honor Book, 2005; ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2005; ALA Notable Children's Book, 2005; and others.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • How should you treat people with disabilities?
  • What should you do when your friends or peers ask you to join in activities you know are wrong?

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate  for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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