Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2004.
Newbery Honor 2005

Moose's family has tried everything his mother can imagine to help his sister Natalie be normal. The next idea is to send her to a special boarding school in San Francisco. Their family moves to Alcatraz, so his father can work to pay for the school. His mother starts teaching piano lessons in San Francisco. So, until Natalie gets into the school, Moose is babysitting Natalie every day. She follows him all over the island, and they surprisingly meet new friends-although he can never stop watching out for trouble. He longs to have a normal boyhood, but can't with Natalie along.

I suspect what most children enjoy about the book are the humor in Piper's (the warden's daughter) scams and the references to Al Capone and the other criminals. The best parts to me are the relationship he has with his sister and the family dynamic-the thoughts and feelings Moose has about caring for his sister, his parents' absense, and his need for his parents' trust and support. Many families struggle with Natalie's problem-now called autism. Most of us have seen glimpses of it. I like that Choldenko shows Natalie interacting with her brother and friends. She isn't a freak to everyone else as Moose is afraid she will be. He cares for her, but there is also concern about her safety and happiness and fear of how things will look outside of the family.

related-Alcatraz Island, California, U.S. history, autism, family problems, brothers and sisters, prison life, behavior, trust, support

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