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Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
labandbooks
proseandkahn
 In January of 2005, I was so rooting for Al Capone Does My Shirts to win the Newbery Award. It received an Honor. The winner was spare and lovely and had the requisite dying sibling.  Al Capone Does My Shirts had Alcatraz and Moose Flanagan and dangerous criminals, a bossy warden's daughter, potential disasters and humor. Also central to its plot was Moose's sister's autism. It is never called that in the book because the medical profession did not know what it was back in the 1930's. The Flanagan family have tried all kinds of treatments and remedies, but the cause of Natalie's behavior remains a mystery to them. The family's last hope comes in the form of a new school created especially for children like Natalie; but it costs money and she might not be accepted. When she is denied admission and her outbursts are threatening Mr. Flanagan's job, Moose appeals to Alcatraz's most notorious criminal for help getting Natalie into the school.

Al Capone Shines My Shoes picks up on August 5, 1935 with the Flanagans preparing for Natalie's entrance into the Esther P. Marinoff School across the bay in San Francisco. Moose is reflecting on the sequence of events that led to this and wondering why prisoner #85, aka Al Capone would do such a favor for the family. He has mixed feelings about Natalie's departure; hope that the school will be good for her and relief that she will be gone. He's looking forward to playing baseball with Annie and exploring "Chinatown" with Jimmy. It is a crawlspace under their apartment building. Even though it's dark and dusty and filled with spider webs, they like to listen to adult conversations. 

When Annie tells Moose that her family received his family's laundry by accident, Moose has a sinking feeling. When she tells him that there was a note in one of his shirts, Moose feels a rising panic which turns to dread when he reads the note. It states simply, "Your turn." What could Moose Flanagan possibly do for Al Capone? How can he help Capone and not endanger his father's job? If he refuses to help Capone, will Natalie get kicked out of her school?

Moose, one of my favorite characters in children's literature,  is a genuinely nice guy who tries to keep everyone he knows happy. This causes a great many people, including his parents, to rely on him a bit much considering he's only twelve. He's got Alcatraz best friends and school best friends, he has to deal with Piper, the warden's daughter who orders everyone to break the Warden's rules, the demands and expectations of other adults and Capone. 

The story takes place over August and most of September. The plot is suspenseful and filled with humor and surprises right up to the end, which is totally unpredictable, but believable. When I read the last words of the book; I could only smile and think, "Of course." A detailed author's note follows. This is book two of a planned trilogy. Welcome back Moose.