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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Al Capone Shines My Shoes,written by Gennifer Choldenko. Dial, Penguin Group (Canada), 2009. $22.50 ages 10 and up

"Nothing is the way it's supposed to be when you live on an island with a billion birds, a ton of bird crap, a few dozen rifles, machine guns, and automatics, and 278 of America's worst criminals - 'the cream of the criminal crop' as one of our felons likes to say. The convicts on Alcatraz are rotten to the core, crazy in the head, and as slippery as eels in axle grease."

I loved Al Capone Does My Shirts (Penguin, 2004) and I think that if you are interested in reading this even better sequel, you should read the first one first. It will give you insight into the characters, the previous action and a productive couple of hours. You won't be sorry that you took the time to read it ahead of this second adventure.

It's still 1935 on Alcatraz where Moose's father is a prison guard and Al Capone is a prisoner. Moose's sister Natalie who has special learning needs (she would now be recognized as autistic) has found a place in a alternative school, the result of Capone's help. Finally, Moose can enjoy the life of a normal twelve-year-old without worry about his beloved sister. He'll have more time to spend with his friends and family...and then he receives a note from Mr. Capone. It seems he wants something in return. A small favor perhaps, but the euphoria doesn't last. Moose realizes that he is in over his head and he is not sure what he should do. It doesn't help that Piper, the warden's daughter continues to threaten him with his father's future position at the prison.

On one of Natalie's visits home from school, she carries a smuggling tool with instructions on where to leave it. Oh, Moose knows he's in big trouble! What happened to his attempts to be the good kid and do what was right?

Life on Alcatraz has its normal moments with arguments between friends, baseball, and just living the life of a middle grader. But, it is also fraught with danger when you consider that many of its inhabitants are hardened, menacing criminals who want an escape from the routines and rigors of prison life. As Moose's world seems to spin out of control in terms of returning a favor, he is dealing with issues of friendship, girls and family.

I love knowing more about the characters and being part of the terror and excitement that results from owing Capone a favor. It is also a book about friendship and trust. Moose learns some tough lessons about being honest with himself and others. His loyalty to his sister remains admirable and he will do anything to keep her content and flourishing. The story builds to a very exciting ending where the kids are safe, but Capone remains a threat.

What fun it was to read this book as a reward for finishing the 53 books that were on our list as one of the juries for the Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids and Teens 2010! I recommend it highly for your own interest or to share in a middle grade classroom. You will not be sorry.

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