93 pages 3 hours read

Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade

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Symbols & Motifs

Box of Buttons

One of the ways the Flanagans’ conflict over how to do what’s best for Natalie expresses itself is through the box of buttons. The box is one of Natalie’s favorite playthings—a comfort object that allows her to count, make patterns, and otherwise sort through its small collection in order to calm or entertain herself. Natalie’s love of the button box is clearly neuroatypical, so it is not surprising that Helen—who desperately wants Natalie to be “normal” wants to take the box away from her daughter. Mrs. Kelly, Natalie’s special education tutor agrees with Helen, arguing that depriving Natalie of her favorite things will stimulate Natalie’s development.

On the other hand, Moose realizes that it is wrong to take Natalie’s buttons away—she finds deep enjoyment in playing with them, so it is cruel to refuse her something that is so essential to her. Learning more about his sister during the time they spend together, Moose decides to give her back the buttons in secret, demonstrating his love for Natalie, his rejection of his mother’s obsession with “fixing” her, and his understanding that Natalie is a person in her own right.