Geared Towards: Ages 10 and up
Published By: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 2009
Set in 1935 on Alcatraz island, Al Capone Shines My Shoes is the story of Moose Flanagan your average 12-year-old boy living in a very non-average place. How, you may wonder, did Moose come to live on Alcatraz of all places? It's not exactly like it's a kiddie park or something. Quite the contrary infact, as Alcatraz is an island prison filled with a few hundred of the country's meanest, nastiest, and dirtiest criminals. It's a place criminals fear and dread. And as has already been established, it's also Moose's home.
Moose's dad is one of the Alcatraz prison guards, and as such he and his family take room and board there on the island. Really it's not all that bad. With other staff families living onsite as well, Moose has several friends to play with. They enjoy games of baseball in the parade grounds, and there's plenty of places to roam. All in all, it's not too bad at all.
That is until the day that Moose decides to try and take his sister Natalie's well being in to his own hands. Always a compassionate brother wanting the best for his sister, Moose sends a message to Al Capone, one of the baddest and most notorious inmates Alcatraz has, asking him a favor. What Moose wants for his sister is not something he himself has the power to get. He hopes, however, that maybe with a little pull from someone with Capone's stature his wish can become a reality. For you see, Moose loves his sister dearly and she him, but that doesn't change the fact that something is wrong with Natalie. And what she needs most of all, besides the love and support of her family, is the opportunity to get in to a proper boarding school specializing in working with children with Natalie's problems. The one school in particular that Moose wants more than anything for his sister to be admitted to is the Esther P. Marinoff school in San Francisco. It's a place where hopefully with time she can be made normal, and with it only being a ferry ride away from Alcatraz Moose knows if she gains admitance he'll still be able to visit her. Could be that it's a win win situation.
Then the fateful day came- the day the most infamous gangster in America replied personally to Moose and his request. Perhaps it wasn't something he honestly expected to happen. Perhaps he didn't think it all the way through. But whatever the case, Al Capone sends Moose a note via the laundry letting him know his request has been filled. It's a great day for Moose! Until he finds out with every favor comes a returned request.
Terrified of having Natalie loose her new found place at the prestigious boarding school or worse yet his dad lose his job, Moose doesn't know what he should do. Having received yet another note, this one saying only two words "Your turn." Moose sets off on the ride of his life. On a small island containing many of the world's most egregious criminals, Moose is left wondering how long it will be before his time runs out. Will he be able to fulfill Capone's request, or will he be left watching his back for the rest of his life?
Readers who have read Choldenko's previous release Al Capone Does My Shirts would obviously be encouraged to pick up a copy of this sequel. However, even if you haven't read the original installment, I highly recommend this book. It's full of mystery and surprise, and despite it's unique setting, it's a story I think many kids could relate to. In relatable terms we'd probably be talking more along the lines of school yard bullies (etc) and not high profile gangsters, but at the end of the day I think both are more similar than you might think. Never mind how interesting this book was just in the details of life on the island. Having never been there to experience it firsthand I wouldn't know how true to life it was, but it seems pretty reasonable to believe there were kids just like Moose living on the island during its heyday. What a life that must have been!
OUR RATING: 5 hearts