Excerpt from Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Al Capone Shines My Shoes

By Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Shines My Shoes
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2009,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2011,
    288 pages.

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My father frowns and lowers his voice as if he’s letting Trixle in on a secret. “Nothing to worry about here, Darby.”

Darby makes a juicy noise with his spit. “Anything out of the ordinary, I got to report.”

My mom picks up Nat’s suitcase, hoping to distract her and get her away from Darby. “Let’s go, Nat,” she says.

“But what about Jimmy and Theresa?” I ask. “They wanted to say goodbye. Couldn’t you wait? I can run get them. It will only take a minute.” Theresa is Jimmy’s little sister and she’s really good with Natalie.

My mom shakes her head. Nat’s shrieking has subsided. Now it’s more like the hum of a radio gone haywire. But my mom clearly wants to get her out of here.

I don’t think Nat will go, but she does. She’s still humming, still holding her head, but she’s walking along behind my mother, yes she is.

“Bye, Nat.” I wave stiffly.

“Moose bye. Moose bye,” she says as she toe-walks across the gangplank.

I take a step forward. I know better than to try to hug her. Nat hates to be touched, but I want to go get the Mattamans at least. I promised I’d let them know when she was leaving.

My father puts his hand on my arm. “She can’t take much more hullabaloo,” he murmurs, his eyes on Darby Trixle, who is deep in conversation with the buck sergeant.

My mom waves to us from the starboard side, scooting Nat’s suitcase under the seat. Nat sits down, her eyes trained on her lap. The motor roars to a start and the Frank M. Coxe pulls out fast, carving a white wake in the stirred-up brown water.

We watch until the boat is so small it could fit in the finger of my baseball glove. And then it’s gone.

2. THE SECRET PASSAGEWAY

Same day—Monday, August 5, 1935

There’s nothing like baseball to get your mind off of things you’d rather not think about. The smell of the glove, the feel of the ball, that thwack the bat makes when you crush the ball... It’s enough to cure anything bad that could ever happen. And today is a baseball day, because my friend Scout from school is coming to Alcatraz this afternoon. Scout is Mr. Baseball. He has his own team and he can really play.

I tell Jimmy all about this inside the crawlspace under 64 building that runs beneath apartment 1D, a vacant apartment, to 1E, Mrs. Caconi’s place. The crawlspace is in what we like to call Chinatown because it looks like the alleyways in Chinatown in San Francisco. Normally, the crawlspace is locked, but last week Jimmy saw the screws in the door hinge were loose, so he took off the hinge and we opened the door. When we leave, we put the hinges back and the door seals up tight like no one has ever been inside.

The only problem is it’s dark in here—everything is coated with an inch of dust and you have to crawl on your hands and knees, avoid the ant holes, and watch the beams so you won’t clonk your head. The cobwebs alone could kill you the way they descend like gauze over your mouth and you breathe ’em in and hope you haven’t sucked a spider down your throat. Still, it’s a good place to talk things over. In our secret passageway, we say things we wouldn’t say anywhere else. I like that no one knows about this place except Jimmy and me.

I can’t imagine a better spot than underneath Mrs. Caconi’s apartment either. The moms on the island spend a lot of time at Mrs. Caconi’s the way the kids gravitate toward the parade grounds. I think it’s because Mrs. Caconi doesn’t have kids, so they get a break from us at her place—kind of like the teachers’ lounge at school.

Excerpted from Al Capone Shines my Shoes © Copyright 2009 by Gennifer Choldenko. Reprinted with permission by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. All rights reserved.

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