In the past, my students have read Al Capone Does My Shirts as the summer reading novel for incoming sixth graders. At a new school this year, that didn’t happen. So, I decided to make it my first novel study!
Most novels are hard to start, right? It takes a while for students to get into the book and become interested. One of the best things about this novel is the first chapter. Let me tell you, students are interested and begging for more right from the start! Here’s the first line:
Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.
The protagonist, Moose, seems to have all kinds of problems, and adjusting to life on Alcatraz Island is just one of them. It’s the 1930’s, and his 15-year-old sister, Natalie, has severe autism. Of course, there isn’t even a name for her disorder yet, and the family struggles to live life with Natalie and get help for her. The heart of the book is about a family dealing with a mentally handicapped child. On the surface, the book is also about baseball, criminals, prison, and the politics of 12-year-olds. Just right for my sixth graders!
I didn’t choose this novel as much for teaching a specific skill as I did for fostering a love of literature. As we read the novel, we’re going to work on the elements of plot as well as practicing our short response to literature.
Before we started reading, I wanted my students to get an overview of Alcatraz Island and the prison there. Since I couldn’t find anything I liked already made, I put together this cold read activity and article for my students to complete. It was perfect! Of course, you can use it even if you aren’t teaching this novel. I’m sharing it with you free, so click on the images below to download through Google Docs.
My plan is to stop every few chapters and consider one essential question. I just introduced my students to the ACE method, so I’m going to actually do the first five (at least) questions WITH them, modeling good answers, before letting them try it on their own.
We just started the novel on Thursday, and on Friday they were already begging for more!