Monday, November 4, 2013

Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko

This week's MMGM is the third in a trilogy that started in 2004 with Al Capone Does My Shirts, continued in 2009 with Al Capone Shines My Shoes and now concludes with another exciting tale from Alcatraz in the 1930s. For other MMGM links, see my sidebar or Shannon's blog.





Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko (August 2013, Dial Books for Young Readers, historical fiction, for ages 9 to 12).

Source: Purchased from bn.com using the gift card I won from Michael Gettel-Gilmartin. Thanks, Michael!

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Alcatraz Island in the 1930s isn't the most normal place to grow up, but it's home for Moose Flanagan, his autistic sister, Natalie, and all the families of the guards. When Moose's dad gets promoted to Associate Warden, it's a big deal. But the cons have a point system for targeting prison employees, and his dad is now in serious danger. After a fire starts in the Flanagan's apartment, Natalie is blamed, and Moose bands with the other kids to track down the possible arsonist. Then Moose gets a cryptic note from the notorious Al Capone himself. If Moose can't figure out what Capone's note means, it may be too late.


Why I liked it: The character of Moose won me over in the first book, and his voice is just as likable in this volume. Thirteen-year-old Moose wants to do what other kids do; play baseball, run around, avoid homework. But he often has to babysit for Natalie (although Choldenko wisely never mentions the term "autism", since it wasn't used yet in 1936). After the fire, Moose discovers suggestions from Al Capone in a notebook that escaped the flames. I loved the way the author managed to work this in, making it seem like Capone is critiquing Moose's homework. But the information turns out to be far more important than that.

It probably would help to read the first two books, but Choldenko has so skillfully introduced the situation and the time period and characters (without any info dumps) that this proves to be a smooth and enjoyable read whether you've read the first two books or not. Which also makes this a great book for writers to study.

15 comments:

  1. I adored the first one, so much so that I have a hardcover. I did not yet read the second or this one, but based on what you say, I need to and will. Thank you, Joanne.

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  2. I read the first one and enjoyed it. Interesting how the age range is 9-12 (usually you see 8-12 right?) and I just peeked and the first one says 10 and up. If I remember there were a few things that put the first a bit on the upper MG side, but it was very good and and I learned a few things I didn't know (about Alcatraz) along the way. If I ever have time I might have to check out the next two! :-)

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    1. Age ranges are a lot more fluid than they used to be when I started at the bookstore in 2002, Julie! You now see publishers stating 8 to 12, 9 to 12, 9 to 13, and 10 to 14, and ALL are considered middle grade. Back in 2002, I was taught middle grade meant 4th, 5th and 6th grade. But yes, I agree with your point. These books would be a little too sophisticated for an 8-year-old. I'd say the second book was the darkest of the three and probably best for 10 and ups, but I think the 9 to 12 range is appropriate for this volume.

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  3. Your review renewed my interest in checking out this series. I said that same thing after the first book came out, but now I'm serious. I have the first one in front of me and am anxious to start it so the next two have some background for me. Thanks for the review.

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Greg! Glad to renew your interest in this trilogy. I'll go check out your blog next.

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  4. Love the title. It's catchy. This might be something I'd like.

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  5. I would have never considered picking this book off a shelf before your review. Something about the title and cover that screams "MEH" to me. However since you've changed my mind with your enthusiastic review I will give it a chance. :)
    Thanks for the feature, Joanne.

    ~Akoss

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    1. The covers aren't real kid-friendly; I'd have to agree there. But it's definitely worth reading. Thank YOU, Akoss.

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  6. I did really enjoy the first book, but haven't gotten to the others. They are going on my TBR list now. Thanks for telling me about this.

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  7. I've never heard of these books before. Thanks for the review, they sound good and very different.

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    1. Oh, I hope you read at least one of them! Moose is such a great character and the setting is unique.

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    1. Hi Erik! I like the cover too. And it's a pretty cool title!

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YAY for comments! I read and appreciate each one and I always try to answer. All opinions welcome. Let's have a conversation.