Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Al Capone Does My Shirts (copy)

When you reflect on your childhood, do you remember your Mom reading to you before bedtime? Did a teacher share Little House on the Prairie or Charlotte’s Web with your entire class? Was there a funny story told every holiday about your dad or the wacky aunt? I bet there was.

It is within our human structure that we crave these interactions with others through stories. As infants, we first seek out the calming nature of our mother’s voice. Through oral stories, we learn morals and basic vocabulary. As we age, we continually build our vocabulary in order to communicate effectively. This is one reason to continue to read-aloud even after the age of eight.

Last year I did an informal study on what the kids were reading and enjoying at our library. The survey was purely qualitative and the sample skewed for I only asked kids that came into our building for one week. The results pointed to a certain teacher’s daily reading aloud of one book.

Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis was the unanimous favorite among Como Elementary students. Each child I talked with remembered different plot lines and humorous situations, to the point of retelling them with great enthusiasm. Why? They felt special being read to and it showed.

The world is full of great read-alouds, the key is matching the person with the right book. For the book Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, I suggest a male reader. Main character and narrator, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan just calls out for a male voice.

This Newbery Honor book is set on the island of Alcatraz during the 1935 depression. The Flanagans hope to change their life for the better as Father works two shifts and Mother gives piano lessons. Moose meanwhile is missing baseball because he’s stuck baby-sitting his 16-year-old autistic sister.

Conflict is just around the corner, literally with Piper, the Warden’s daughter next door. Miss Piper has a knack for contriving moneymaking schemes that tend to go sour. Her latest project is convincing the whole class Al Capone will do their laundry for a nickel.

Word of caution; always read the book first. It is embarrassing when words pop up you don’t know, can’t pronounce or find inappropriate for the age group. It is best to buy the book so you can mark changes in the margin. What! A librarian just said mark up a book! Yeah, well not the library copy, please.

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