Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Al Capone Does My Homework

Al Capone Does My Homework

Gennifer Choldenko
For ages 10 and up
Penguin, 2013   ISBN: 978-0803734722

Moose Flanagan’s father has a new job on Alcatraz Island. He is now the associate warden and Moose is worried. He knows all too well how much the cons enjoy finding ways to get back at their captors. He appreciates that his father is now walking around with a proverbial bulls-eye on his back. The only person who can help Moose protect his father is Piper, whose father is the warden. For her whole life Piper’s father has been in charge of a high security prison and she knows how things work in such places. She knows, for example, that the prisoners have a point system for targeting prison employees. If you spit on a warden you get twenty points, and if you stab one you get five hundred. When you’re locked up for life, earning the title as the “toughest guy at the roughest hard-time prison in America” counts for a lot.

   Moose is desperate to do what he can to keep his father safe and his efforts get derailed almost immediately. While his parents are in the city with the warden celebrating Mr. Flanagan’s new appointment, a fire breaks out in Moose’s apartment. He is able to get his sister, Nat, out of the apartment in time, but the apartment is badly damaged. Moose is terrified that the fire started because he fell asleep and because his autistic sister did something to cause the fire. Some of the other people living in the residential block are quick to blame Nat, even though they have no evidence that she is responsible.

   With the help of his friends, Moose is able to determine that Nat had nothing to do with the fire. He begins to wonder if one of the cons somehow caused the fire to start, or perhaps Darby Trixle is behind it. Darby is a guard who thinks he should have got the job of associate warden, and he goes out of his way to be as unpleasant as possible to Moose and his family. Darby is mean and cruel and Moose is sure that the man would happily commit arson to get what he wants.

   Then Moose gets a strange written message from Al Capone. Is it possible that Capone, one of the most famous crooks of all time, is trying to help Moose?

   In this third title about life on Alcatraz island in the 1930s, Gennifer Choldenko combines humor with intrigue to give readers a highly entertaining story. Told from Moose’s point of view, the narrative perfectly captures Moose’s voice, giving us a glimpse into the heart of a boy who just wants a quiet life without complications.