Monday, July 2, 2012

Alcatraz Books

     I think Alcatraz is fascinating, and I can't imagine it not capturing kids' imaginations.  It's one of the most infamous places in American history, and it held some of the most infamous people in American history.  It was home to criminals like Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and the Birdman of Alcatraz.  What we don't always realize, however, was that families of guards, lighthouse keepers, soldiers, and Native Americans lived there.  Children played and commuted to school from there.  We learn from Murphy that families were allowed inside the prison theater to view the same movie the prisoners had seen that afternoon.  Children caroled around the island on Christmas Eve, and every Halloween they dressed up and trick-or-treated at the family residences.  Families didn't even lock their doors.  Inmates would pick up news about the families, remember birthdays, and tell fathers about their daughters' secret boyfriends.  They even tossed balls back and forth. Some kids remembered their time living on Alcatraz as the happiest of their lives.  We also learn that Alcatraz was not only used for a maximum-security prison.  It was a fort, the site for the first West Coast lighthouse, a military prison, and a place for a Native American protests.  This interesting nonfiction picture book has a plethora of photographs, maps, newspaper articles, and mug shots throughout it.  A resource list of books, videos, and web sites are in the back, and it includes a timeline.  It's a great book to explore nonfiction text features and primary sources.

     After all this factual background, a wonderful historical fiction book for kids to read next would be Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.  It was a 2005 Newbery Honor Book and a favorite in my classroom.  It takes place on the island in 1935.  Moose has to move there because his dad takes a job as head electrician for Alcatraz.  Moose has an older sister, Natalie, who has autism.  However, at that time, autism was not diagnosed, so the book does not call her disorder by that name.  The book is about the family's struggle to care for her, and also Moose's experiences on the island.  Some of the details about the relationships between the inmates and children of the island mentioned in Children of Alcatraz are explored in this entertaining novel.  The next book in the series is Al Capone Shines My Shoes.

     I was fortunate enough to visit Alcatraz in 2007 while taking a vacation in San Francisco and Sonoma. Here are some pictures from that trip:

     There is just an air of mystery and danger there that makes it compelling to read about and visit.  I know kids will  think so, too!

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