I was pleasantly surprised when Charlie & Frog made its way to me and I read that one of its characters was deaf. Having studied American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf culture in school, I knew that this book would have an interesting perspective with one of its protagonists using ASL as their main form of communication. That being said, you don’t have to have any experience with Deaf culture or ASL to enjoy this book. Author Karen Kane not only weaves a fantastic story full of delightful characters but also takes the opportunity to highlight the differences between hearing and deaf experiences and teach sign language as well. She does so in a way that’s easy for children to understand and that adults can appreciate.
Charlie Tickler is a smart, thoughtful, hearing 10-year-old who’s sent to live with his grandparents while his mom and dad travel—again—to Africa to help the giant golden moles they love so much. Charlie’s grandparents live in the charming and somewhat eccentric town of Castle-on-the-Hudson. Even with the fantastic quirkiness surrounding them, his grandparents are more interested in television shows and commercials than doing things together or with Charlie.
Given no supervision whatsoever, things could easily get out of hand, but Charlie’s not one to look for trouble. On a trip to the library he meets a Deaf woman who seems frightened and signs something strange to him. He doesn’t know American Sign Language, but the librarian does! She tells him that she’s never seen the sign in question before and that if he wants to learn ASL, he’ll have to go talk to Frog at the Castle School for the Deaf.
Francine “Frog” Castle is an energetic, adventure seeking, Deaf girl who communicates in ASL and with writing. She works at the Flying Hands Cafe at the school that was founded by her grandfather. When she meets Charlie, he explains in writing why he’s there and then shows her the mysterious sign. She tells him it means dead, and that now the two of them have to solve this murder mystery! Charlie is quite certain it’s not a murder mystery, but he does want to know what’s going on. Frog eagerly teaches Charlie some essential signs so they can talk with each other. Then the two of them spend the next several days trying to figure out why the woman signed dead and what might have frightened her.
Charlie & Frog is a fun, mildly suspenseful novel written for children 8-12 years old. Even with some “scary” subject matter, Kane manages to keep things lighthearted and without any truly severe consequences. While the characters are quirky and a bit unusual, most of them have good intentions. Kane’s novel provides some good discussion points about caring for each other, being a good friend, finding the good in others, and listening with your heart. I give Charlie & Frog 4 out of 5 “kiss-fists.”