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Monday, December 28, 2009

More Tales from The Rock: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

"DONE."

That's all the note in Moose's laundry had said. "Done." But when Al Capone does your laundry, a note in your pocket is a big deal. Big Al may be confined to a five by seven cell in Alcatraz, but his powers extend far and wide.

That's why twelve-year-old Moose has written Capone a letter, pleading for his help in getting his sister Natalie into a special school which can give her a chance at a more normal life. With that "Done," an acceptance letter soon follows and Natalie is on her way to the Esther P. Marinoff School in nearby San Francisco, and Moose's life with his prison guard father and his mother on Alcatraz Island, heretofore centered around his autistic sister's care, is about to change radically.

But now Annie, who is a crack baseball pitcher and nobody's fool, knows that something is up between Moose and The Rock's most famous prisoner. And then comes another note, one that makes Moose's heart almost stop:

Annie props open the screen door with her foot. "Moose." She gulps. "You won't believe what happened."

"What happened?" I asked.

"We got the wrong laundry. We got yours." she whispers.

"I didn't realize it was your laundry. I started putting it away and...Moose, there was a note in the pocket of your shirt."

"A-a note?" My voice breaks high, like a girl's.

The note is written on the same paper in the same handwriting as the other one.

YOUR TURN, it says.

When Scarface Capone does you a favor, he expects a payback, and when Moose gets that note, his life becomes a misery, waiting for the other shoe, perhaps shined by Al Capone, to drop. First, when Big Al's wife Mae visits him on The Rock and drops her hanky, it's no accident. Then when Natalie comes home for a holiday visit, there is a dread object found in her suitcase, a bar spreader obviously intended to be used in an upcoming escape attempt. "Bottom drawer," says Natalie. "He told me to put it in the bottom drawer. 105, 105, 105." Moose, Annie, and his friend Jimmy know that there's more to that story than they want to know.

The kids are terrified. There is obviously an escape attempt being planned, but if they tell what they know, they fear their fathers will lose their jobs, no minor matter in the Depression of 1935. Trustee inmates are in and out of their apartments often for repairs, and Moose's family's toilet seems always to need the services of Seven Fingers, ax murderer and master plumber, and when the escapee wannabees discover the tool not in Natalie's bottom drawer but part of the toy carousel of six-year-old Janet Trixle, the warden's youngest, the cons are sure to suspect that the kids know more than is good for them.

Secret hideouts, a touch of romance with the warden's pretty but manipulative older daughter, spying on the big reception for FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover, and an exciting prison break scene are all part of Gennifer Choldenko's rousing sequel to her Newbery Honor Book, Al Capone Does My Shirts. Picking right up on the heels of the first book, this one has the same colorfully drawn characters and plenty of suspense as Moose gets his first kiss and Buddy Boy, One-Arm Willy, and Seven Fingers break loose from the cell house and take them all, including Natalie, hostages in their escape plan. But Natalie has powers of observation beyond those of the average kid, and it is she who makes the right connections when push comes to shove.

Choldenko's historical fiction chops are just right in her latest, Al Capone Shines My Shoes (Dial, 2009) one sure to please fans of her first book. Although this novel is plenty strong enough to be read on its own, it would be a shame to miss the fun of reading the two together. As the Kirkus reviewer puts it, "Choldenko hits a grand slam...Effortless period dialogue, fully developed secondary characters and a perfectly paced plot combine to create a solid-gold sequel that will not disappoint."

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3 Comments:

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