Al Capone Does My Shirts Summary

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

''Al Capone Does My Shirts'' by Gennifer Choldenko is a humorous book that takes us to Alcatraz in the 1930's, through the perspective of a prison guard's son. We watch as Moose and his sister, Natalie, struggle to adjust to life on Alcatraz.

Highly Acclaimed

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko is a Newbery Award winning novel that made its debut in 2004. In this story, a family works to settle into life on the island of Alcatraz. The son, Moose, attempts to traverse the difficulties of adolescence while working hard to help his sister Natalie, who is autistic.

The Setting

In the 1930's Moose Flanagan and his family move to Alcatraz, or Devil's Island, so his father can take a new job as an electrician and a prison guard at the famous prison. This prison houses some of the most notorious prisoners in the United States, including Al Capone. Moose is very unhappy about the move because he misses his friends. He knows that they really moved so his sister, Natalie, might have a better chance of getting into a special school to help with her autism. Moose's mom has a difficult time accepting that Natalie is disabled, so she works tirelessly to get her into the program.

Adjusting to the Island

When the family first arrives on the island, Moose and Natalie are given a tour where they meet Piper, the warden's daughter. She wants to know what is wrong with Natalie, which always makes Moose feel awkward. He never knows what to say when people ask, but he knows she is assuming Natalie is dumb. He doesn't like Piper very much. He is feeling resentful. If it weren't for the fact that his parents wanted Natalie to go a new school, he knows they wouldn't even be there. His father is so busy working that he doesn't have time to play ball anymore, which is one of Moose's favorite things to do.

Natalie and School

Moose's parents, especially his mother, have tried everything possible to find someone or some place that can help Natalie. There was a time when they put her in a study at UCLA, but the doctors there told his mom that there was nothing that could be done to help her. They want her to give up and accept that there is no hope for Natalie. Moose's mom cannot accept this. She keeps telling everyone Natalie is ten, no matter how many birthdays she had, as there are no programs for older children.

Finally the Esther P. Marinoff School agrees to take Natalie, and the family takes her on the first day. She doesn't want to go, but Moose cajoles her into giving it a try. When Moose goes to his school for the first day, he is excited because he finds boys who put together a pickup baseball game every Monday. He is finally happy about the move.

When he gets home, the phone rings, and he hears the head of the Esther P. Marinoff School tell him that he needs to come and pick up Natalie. She is not a good fit for the school. They have to go get her, and Moose feels his world slipping away. He will have to take care of his sister because his mother works teaching music classes. The head of the school tells his mom that there is a person who might be able to help, but Moose is convinced that no one can help. He feels lost and disappointed.

Things Get Dicey

Piper is a wild child who likes to create schemes. She tries to involve as many of the kids in her schemes as possible. She comes up with a plan to charge other kids money to have their clothes washed by prisoners. Moose doesn't want to get involved, and he tries desperately to stay out of her scheme. Piper is persistent and persuasive, and he eventually gives in to her idea. Of course it backfires, and they all get in trouble.

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