CYBILS REVIEW: Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko


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, despite being an unlikely candidate, 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. Is Capone trying to protect Moose's dad too? If Moose can't figure out what Capone's note means, it may be too late.


I put off reading this series because Al Capone and Alcatraz simply didn't interest me, but I'm glad I finally read one of the books in the series. Now I want to go back and read the two previous books.  I found myself really liking this book.

Moose, a thirteen-year-old boy living on Alcatraz Island with his family, feels responsible to make sure his father remains safe now that he is associate warden. Along with that goes the ongoing need to help his autistic sister, Natalie learn to get along socially.  Natalie is a genius with numbers but won't even look people in the eye. After a fire guts his family's apartment and Natalie gets blamed, Moose sets out to discover the real cause of the fire, hoping to prove his sister's innocence. With the help of his friends, a cockroach or two, and Moose's own observational skills can Moose find the firebug in time? And what about his father's life, can he protect his father too?

Strengths: Moose is an appealing character as are his friends, Annie, Jimmy, and Piper (sort of). Moose's interactions with his sister are believable.  Moose clearly loves his sister but gets very frustrated sometimes with her behavior. The mystery about the fire is an fascinating one as are the methods the kids use to try to find answers (I did appreciate however that it was the adults that discover many of the clues) and they ultimately stumble upon other mischief going on and work to bring the culprits to justice. A satisfying read all around with some surprises along the way, including Capone's involvement. I also appreciated that Natalie plays a key role in the story, using her strength with numbers to help those around her.

Weaknesses: Many children won't read historical fiction because of a mistaken idea that it is 'boring.' And this may not be as action-packed as a lot of kids want these days.


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