The novel Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko, showcases the power of family to triumph over adversity. Moose wants to protect his sister and stay out of trouble, but then his family moves to Alcatraz. His father becomes a prison guard and is never home, while his sister attends a special school in San Francisco. Moose is surrounded by opportunities for trouble: his mother’s worries about his sister’s autism, money issues, the warden’s daughter Piper, and the prisoners.
In the beginning, Moose wants to hide his sister from the world. He is wonderful about spending time with her and protecting her, but his parents take advantage of the fact that Moose always seems to know exactly how to calm Natalie. Moose loves his sister, and feels guilty that he sometimes resents the attention she demands from his parents. Moose had to leave his friends and his championship baseball team behind when they moved to Alcatraz, and he tries hard not to resent that.
By the middle of the book, the kids on Alcatraz have accepted Natalie but Moose is still trying to fit in. He desperately wants to impress Piper, the warden’s daughter, because she has the power to get his father fired and because she’s pretty. Adventure after adventure goes wrong as Moose follows Piper’s lead and ends up getting in trouble while she gets off without reprimand.
At the end, Moose realizes that his family is the most important thing in his life. He risks interacting with Al Capone, one of the forbidden prisoners, to ensure his sister’s admittance back into the San Francisco school once she is kicked out for being too old.
Throughout this book, humor plays an important part. Moose and Natalie have a relationship that is very funny for the reader, but quite tender between them. Their parents are busy with grown-up concerns, but Moose comes to realize they are doing the best they can, even though sometimes their actions are hard to explain.