The Gardener of Alcatraz

Charlesbridge. Apr. 2022. 40p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781623541606.
Gr 1-3–Prisoners sent to the forbidding island prison Alcatraz had few opportunities for meaningful work, which makes the story of Elliot Michener quite remarkable. Michener, convicted counterfeiter, spent much of his early time there devising ways to escape. The opportunity to become a prison gardener, however, gave his life new meaning. Not only did he transform the drab land surrounding the prison into a landscape bursting with color, but Michener was invited to help out at the warden’s house. Michener was eventually released from prison, after which he went to work on a farm in Wisconsin. Though this is the story of one man at one notorious prison, the author subtly conveys the need for more humane treatment of all prisoners given the possibility of better outcomes for their lives post-incarceration. The small amount of text on each page and the appealing artwork make this an engaging read. Michener and the other main characters are all white, while other prisoners are a variety of ethnicities, a fact not lost on the author, as she explains in a note. Pair this with Jennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts, also set on Alcatraz. Extensive back matter includes a time line, historical photographs, further information about Michener and Alcatraz, and a selected bibliography.
VERDICT A fascinating look at a minor historical figure, sure to inspire discussion.

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