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In pop culture, YADA-YADA usually means "blah, blah, blah" or "more of the same." For this blog, YADA-YADA is an acronym meaning "Young Adult Discussions About Young Adult-Designed Art." Check out my summaries and reviews of teen media. Chime in and let me know what you think!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blog No. 36 -- Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

GENRE: Historical Fiction for YA Low Readers (or Juvenile)

Title: Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Bibliographic Information:
Pub. Date: September 2009
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Hardcover, 288pp
Age Range: 10 and up
ISBN-13: 9780803734609
ISBN: 0803734603

Chicago Public Library Best of the Best 2009
Christian Science Monitor Best Children's Books for 2009
Columbus Dispatch Best Children's Books of 2009
Cuffy Honorable Mention Award for Favorite Sequel 2009
Goodreads Choice Award, 2009 nominee
Junior Library Guild selection
Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Books of 2009
Minnesota Public Radio's Books to Read in 2010
San Francisco Chronicle Best Children's Books of 2009
Scholastic Book Fair and Book Club Hardcover Selection

Reader’s Annotation:
In the sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts, Moose Flanagan gets closer to the cons on Alcatraz Island than he ever imagined. When he receives a note that says “It’s your turn” inside a freshly laundered shirt that came back to his house, he wonders if Al Capone is telling him that he must return the favor that he believes Capone had granted him: helping his sister Natalie get into the special school in San Francisco.

Plot Summary:
Moose Flanagan’s life on 1935 Alcatraz continues to get more interesting, despite the fact that he still has not yet met the notorious criminal, Al Capone. Moose has written to him, asking his help in getting Natalie accepted to the Esther P. Marinoff School. Mysteriously, Natalie has finally been accepted, and Moose believes that Capone has done it. If anyone finds out that Moose had been in contact with Capone, it would be over for their family. After all, the Depression is still on, and money is hard to come by. Additionally, Moose himself could get into herds of trouble.

The trouble with asking a criminal for a favor, though, is that nine times of out ten, he will want a favor in return. When Moose receives a note stuffed into a newly laundered shirt that says “It’s your turn,” Moose wonders and worries about what it is that he will have to do to return the favor to Al Capone. Moose barely finds out that Capone’s wife, Mae, is coming to the island to visit Al when he receives a second note saying that his wife adores yellow roses. Moose knows he is going to have to deliver, yet, if he does, everyone will know what he has done, and his family will suffer. On top of all this anguish is a corrupt prison guard who threatens Moose, some scary cons who come into the island families houses to do odd jobs, his growing attraction to the obnoxious Piper, and the big event—a major party held at the home of the Warden, which could end up being the undoing of everything for Moose and his family.

Critical Evaluation:
Choldenko’s second novel in the Al Capone series continues the adventures of Moose and his Alcatraz friends in their quest to survive on the island and meet Al Capone.

The initial pages of this second book recap what has taken place in the first, making it work as a stand alone novel. However, readers will get so much more enjoyment from it if they have read the first one beforehand. Choldenko’s wit and humor fill the pages of this second book and her creation of Capone’s character as a well rounded one with a bit of a heart shows her mastery in writing.

Choldenko’s use of characters’ names given some insight into their motives and natures as well, especially Darby Trixie, the guard that has some nefarious dealings with the cons. He is definitely a trickster, changing personalities to suit his needs. The politics and social commentary in these books are obvious to adult readers, but accessible to a younger audience. Although I preferred the first book, this was still a great read, and, as a middle book of a trilogy, still manages to hold up on its own. I love Moose, and how his conflict between his growing interest in Piper and his need to keep Natalie happy in her new school causes him to assess his own motives. This is a great story with great heart, and is a worthy read for all audiences.

Reading level/Interest Age:
This book is recommended for ages 10 and over by the publisher, but many others suggest eleven and up. Like its predecessor, everyone, including adults, will enjoy the humor and sensitivity of this book. The high school students who loved the first one told me that they liked the second equally well. It is great for ninth and tenth grade, but older students may find it a bit childish. Once past high school, teens will appreciate this book as a nod to their younger days, and a great life lesson for all.

Information about the Author:
Gennifer Choldenko was born in 1957 in Santa Monica, California, and graduated from Newbury Park High School in the Conejo Valley area of Ventura County. She grew up the youngest in a family of four children, with parents who enjoyed entertaining.

According to her website, http://www.choldenko.com/, Gennifer states that her ability to tell stories started when she was six years old. Her family was at a dinner party, and she was the youngest sitting at the kid’s table. To get attention, she began making up weird and funny stories, which she says she continues to this day.

Gennifer writes both novels and picture books. The second book in the Capone trilogy, Al Capone Shines My Shoes, came out in September 2009, and the third will be out in 2011.

Curriculum Ties:
Can be a great tie in with American history, particularly the Great Depression, just like the first novel. It is also a great book for tolerance-promoting activities.

Booktalking Ideas:
This book continues the story of Moose Flannigan and his life on Alcatraz Island. In this installment, Moose finds himself face-to-face with Al Capone, and he makes a deal with the criminal—one that he feels will sentence him to great trouble. This book questions the motives behind people’s actions, and makes us wonder if doing the wrong thing is ever right.

Challenge Issues: None.

Why I Included This Book:
I read her first book in the trilogy—Al Capone Does My Shirts—after I met Gennifer Choldenko at my first CSLA conference. I found out there that she attended the high school where I currently teach—Newbury Park—and I got her to sign a copy of the book for our students. In the summer of 2009, I received a review copy of this book, read it, and loved it as much as the first. It continues the story of Moose and Natalie—and Al Capone plays a bigger part in this book. I can’t wait for the third!

Cover image courtesy of: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Al-Capone-Shines-My-Shoes/Gennifer-Choldenko/e/9780803734609/?pwb=1&

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