Historical Fiction with a Twist: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Historical Fiction with a Twist: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, is historical fiction told in a quirky and interesting way. It is a great book to use in your classroom or homeschool for a whole class novel study, small book groups, or individual book studies.


Published in 2006, and named as a Newbery Honor selection, this novel introduces readers to Al Capone, Alcatraz (when it was a working prison), and the challenges of living with a sister who has a disability, in a funny and modern way. Students will instantly relate to the protagonist, Moose, even though he is living on Alcatraz Island with prisoners, in 1935.


From the Book Jacket:

Today I moved to Alcatraz, a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I’m not the only kid who lives here. There are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cooks or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. And then there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers, and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don’t want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you’re me. I came here because my mother said I had to.


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In 1935, Autism was not understood and treated as it is today. At the heart of Moose’s story is his sister Natalie who is autistic. The family desperately wants to get Natalie the treatment and education that she needs to flourish, which is what brings them to Alcatraz of all places. The story set on Alcatraz Island with the infamous Al Capone, as a resident during the Great Depression, sets an interesting and unique backdrop for a story about coming of age that kids today can still understand and relate to.

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Al Capone Does My Shirts for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.

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