Great Reads for Teens and Tweens!

Helping you make an informed decision about that book

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Title: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Publisher: Perfection Learning     Year: 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0756970208

Genre: Fiction

Age: 10 and up

Awards: Newbery Honor, NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Book 2004, ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2005, ALA Notable Book 2005, New York Public Library Best Book for Teen Age 2005

Themes / Subjects: Alcatraz, Special Needs, Relationships, Coming of Age, Friendships, 1930s, Famous convicts of the 1930s, Family, Social Issues

Plot Summary:

It is 1935, right in the midst of the Great Depression when Moose Flanagan’s father takes a job as a prison guard on Alcatraz Island. This means the whole family, including his mom and older sister, Natalie, have to live on the island, within the shadow of the prison, in an apartment building with the families of the other guards. Moose is not happy about leaving his home and friends in Santa Monica to take up residence next to a prison. Moose adjusts to life in a strange new place, stuck with the responsibility of looking after his sister, hardly seeing his parents, and getting to know the other children on the island, including the pretty and problematic Piper, the daughter of the Warden.

My Take:

When I first saw this book in the school library three years ago, I thought it sounded silly. I was expecting a comedy, maybe some boy humor too. I totally judged this book by the cover. And it was totally not what I expected. Sure there is humor sprinkled throughout the book, but I was so surprised how serious the book was.  The story is told by Moose Flanagan, a 12-year-old boy whose family has recently moved to Alcatraz because of his father’s job. I expected the book to be about Moose’s relationship with Alcatraz and fitting in, which it does a little, but the bulk of the book is about Moose’s relationship with his special needs sister.

What I love most about this book was reading about their relationship and how Natalie’s special needs affect the entire family. It really is tough love.  I really believe this book could help teens to understand people with special needs and that they deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. This story is really deep and has so many wonderful messages yet the setting and time period help to keep it light.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars … I think Al Capone would be delighted to know he plays a vital, positive, role in a young teen’s life in this novel

Similar read: The Children of Alcatraz: Growing Up on the Rock by Claire Rudolph Murphy … A great non-fiction read to learn more about life on Alcatraz with real stories from the kids who lived there.

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Hank Zipzer: Niagara Falls, or Does It? by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Title: Hank Zipzer: Niagara Falls, or Does It?

Author: Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap      Year: 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0448431628

Genre: Fiction

Age: 7 and up

Awards: Beehive Children’s Fictional Book Award,  Black-Eyed Susan Book Award,  Maud Hart Lovelace Award,  Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award

Themes / Subjects: Elementary school, school & education, learning disabilities, humor, friendships, social issues – special needs, juvenile fiction

Plot Summary:

For Hank Zipzer, fourth grade is not the fresh start he thought it’d be. On his first day back to school he is called to the principal’s office where he is scolded for being late to school. When he returns back to class things get even worse when Mrs. Adolf assigns the class a five paragraph essay on “What You Did This Summer” and tells Hank he will be the first to present his essay. Five paragraphs?! Hank can hardly write one good sentence, how is he going to write five paragraphs? Instead of writing what he did last summer, Hank decides to use his “creativity” to present a living essay. Naturally it begins well and ends as a disaster landing Hank in detention which strangely enough may end up changing his life.

My Take:

Is Hank Zipzer really the world’s greatest underachiever? I think not. Hank Zipzer is absolutely an amazingly awesome character and one whom I greatly admire. Everyone learns differently and it’s a little heartbreaking to read that people (especially his parents) think Hank is lazy or dumb just because he does things differently. In fact, he is a creative genius and has a knack for remembering interesting facts. He just has difficulty translating his knowledge to boring assignments. It uses silly, irreverent, classroom humor to tell the story of a young boy who enlists the aid of his classmates to keep him out of trouble. This is one book in a series of similar stories, and promises good reading for kids of all ages.

I know the age is 7 and up and this is a teen/tween page, so why include this book? Because it is that awesome! The lessons in this book can be applied to all ages and should be read by all ages. Don’t let the fact that Hank is an elementary kid scare you off, take my word for it, it’s a great read.

Neat fact: Henry Winkler is dyslexic and his stories are about a kid with a learning disability. See any similarities? Hmm…

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Similar read: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos … Like Hank Zipzer, Joey Pigza the main character of this series has a learning disabilities and struggles with his desire to behave and his impulses.