I recently finished reading Al Capone Does My Shirts, a middle-grade novel by Gennifer Choldenko. I've been meaning to read this since it received a Newbery Honor several years ago, but only just got around to it.
It's 1935, and 12-year-old Moose Flanagan has just moved to Alcatraz where his father is a prison guard and electrician. These jobs in the prison might enable the family to send Moose's "special" sister, Natalie to a school that might be able to help with her problems. This book is well written, and Moose's character is especially likable. Choldenko does a good job of portraying what life is like for a child who bears much of the responsibility to care for a disabled sibling. It's easy to root for him as he learns to accept life on a prison island, deal with the warden and his very cute, but extremely difficult daughter, and makes new friends through baseball. I also loved the character of Theresa, one of the other children living on Alcatraz. She is a fun, spunky, confident seven-year-old, and she's awesome.
It's not mentioned during the story, but Natalie is autistic and was inspired by the author's sister. It is a sensitive portrayal of both Natalie and Mrs. Flanagan, who struggles to do anything and everything to help her disabled child.
I thought the ending was a little far-fetched, but 5th graders probably won't care. I liked the author's note at the end in which she explained her research on Al Capone and Alcatraz, so she could make the book historically accurate.
Well worth the read.