I’ll be spending this week talking about the books I read during last Saturday’s Readathon. I’ll be going in order from least favorite to most.

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko is the sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts, which received a Newbery Honor award. Set on Alcatraz during the Great Depression, both stories are told by Matthew “Moose” Flanagan, a 12-year-old baseball fanatic whose father works as a prison guard. The second novel does build on the first, but not so much that Al Capone Shines My Shoes wouldn’t be enjoyable on its own.

The GoodReads summary has this to say about the novel:

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (cover)It’s 1935. Moose Flanagan lives on Alcatraz with his family, the other families of the guards, and a few hundred no-name hit men, con men, mad dog murderers and a handful of bank robbers too. And one of those cons has just done him a big favor.

You see, Moose has never met Al Capone, but a few weeks ago Moose wrote a letter to him asking him to use his influence to get his sister, Natalie, into a school she desperately needs in San Francisco. After Natalie got accepted, a note appeared in Moose’s freshly laundered shirt that said: Done.

As this book begins, Moose discovers a new note. This one says: Your turn. Is it really from Capone? What does it mean? Moose can’t risk anything that might get his dad fired. But how can he ignore Al Capone?

I really enjoyed Al Capone Shines My Shoes, even more than Al Capone Does My Shirts. The stakes are higher, and the characters, though the same in both novels, are more complex in the second. The writing is engaging, the story believable enough. Moose is a good kid who has dug himself into a bit of a hole trying to help his family. As he deals with his crush, his dueling best friends, his family, and the rules of living on Alcatraz, he’s also faced with the little issue of Al Capone.

Following the story is a section of author’s notes, which I enjoyed hearing. This section explains what was real in the story and what was made up and includes recollections from people who actually lived on Alcatraz while it was a functioning prison. It also explains that the inspiration for Natalie, Moose’s developmentally disabled sister, was actually Choldenko’s own sister. It was fascinating to hear about Alcatraz’s history as well as the way in which Choldenko wove bits of her own life into her novel.

Kirby Heyborne, who read the audiobook, did a fantastic job. He differentiates well between characters and is consistent with the voices he uses for each. His pacing and phrasing are easy to listen to and understand. Plus, I could totally hear his voice as Moose’s, which is especially important to me when a story features first person narration (as this one does).

These novels are geared toward middle school readers, but I enjoyed them both. They had plenty of substance and intrigue to hold my attention, and the premise is quite creative. If a third one is written, I’ll be reading it too!


Readathon books I’ve reviewed so far:

Still to come:

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • Something Missing by Matthew Dicks

Join the Conversation


  1. I haven’t read the first book, but I think I would really enjoy this one. I visited Alcatraz a few years ago and was very surprised to learn that the guard’s families lived with them on the island. It seemed like such an odd way to live.

  2. I read Al Capone Does my Shirts a year or so ago during the readathon and really enjoyed it. I didn’t realize that there was a follow up! This one sounds just as fun as the first–and promising that you liked it more.

    1. I really liked the second one! If you’re already a fan of the first, I’d definitely recommend checking out the second. It’d be a great readathon book…quick and engaging!

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