Putnam Juvenile, 2004. 978-0399238611
Synopsis: It’s hard to move to a new home, especially when your neighbors are some of the most notorious murderers, con men, burglars, kidnappers, embezzlers, rapists, and hit men. Sure, there are other kids there whose dads work as guards, cooks, electricians, and doctors, like your dad. But there’s not really much good that comes from moving the Alcatraz; I mean, you’re only supposed to go to Alcatraz when no other prison wants you, right? So how did I end up here even though I’m not a criminal? My mother told me I had to.
Why I picked it up: It was a Battle of the Books selection for this year and the idea of living on Alcatraz is rather intriguing to me.
Why I finished it: While the title in and of itself is intriguing, it was the historical element of the story that kept me turning the pages. Though Moose Flanagan and his sister Natalie are fictional characters, there were families like theirs that lived on Alcatraz during the years that the penitentiary was operational from 1934-1963. And yes, there was a laundry service that was run by cons, so there is a distinct possibility that Al Capone did wash the shirts of the Alcatraz residents. Moose is a likable young man and Choldenko seems to have an eye into his mind as he struggles with the move, school, and his autistic sister. As much as Moose tries to be normal, he has to come to terms with the fact that very little about his life is normal. The other children – Theresa, Annie, Jimmy, and Piper – almost make the ‘glamour’ of living with convicts while the country is in the midst of a depression seem ordinary. It’s a sweet and passionate picture of a boy and his family struggling both in their personal lives and their public lives that speaks to the power of love and the little everyday miracles that make even the most disastrous situations seem okay.
Other related materials: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko; Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko; Notes from a Liar and her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko; Autism, The Invisible Cord: A Sibling’s Diary by Barbara S. Cain; Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder, illustrated by Marc Thomas; Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers and Sisters with Autism by Fiona Bleach; Rules by Cynthia Lord; Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper; Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos; Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse; Hoot by Carl Hiaasen; Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olson