by Gennifer Choldenko
Dial Books for Young Readers
How does living on Alcatraz with Al Capone and 277 of America’s worst criminals sound to you? That’s where Moose Flanagan lives with his family, along with the other guards and their families. In Gennifer Choldenko’s second novel about Moose, Al Capone Shine My Shoes, our main character is in a real fix. In the first novel, Moose asked for help getting his sister Natalie into a special school. Al has done that, and now it’s Moose’s turn to pay up.
Choldenko connects the events from Al Capone Does My Shirts seamlessly, without a “last time on Alcatraz…” feeling. While Moose is dealing with this big favor that Al Capone wants from him, he’s also dealing with friends. Everyone likes Moose—right? Not always. Right now, it seems like everyone is upset with him. When his older sister Natalie comes home for a visit, everything becomes even more complicated. Lots of adventures ensue as Moose tries to do the right thing and still keep everyone happy. He’ll learn, though, that trying to make everyone happy doesn’t always work.
I like the pressure that Choldenko puts Moose under. It makes him uncomfortable as he struggles to be a good person and to deal with the false ideas other have of him. He is a good kid, but finds himself in predicaments with his friends on a regular basis. Most of the problems he finds himself in revolve around Al Capone and the fascination they all seem to have with the charismatic prisoner who sends messages to Moose through the laundry.
Weaving historical facts with her own imagination, Choldenko has created a believable space for the Alcatraz kids to grow up in. She has created characters to live in the real life Alcatraz and woven in real life characters with whom they interact. One of the most interesting things is the author’s note in which she describes the facts surrounding Alcatraz and how she used them. We’re given glimpses into some of her interviews with people who really did live on Alcatraz with their families. She also points out to us the events she has created that are fictional, but also explains where she pulled the ideas from. This is a glimpse into her craft that I enjoyed and made the story even more enjoyable.
Even if you aren’t a huge historical fiction fan, you’ll enjoy the shenanigans of the Alcatraz kids. Their characters are believable and, although set in 1935, highly relatable by both boys and girls. Al Capone Shines My Shoes is a fun read that should not be missed!