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Are you looking for a middle-grade children’s detective book with strong male and female characters plus an in tune multicultural edge? Just released, Charlie and Frog by Karen Kane is one of many strong children’s books about disabilities.
This Disney-Hyperion title will inspire and encourage young readers alike to listen with their hearts and embrace everyone in their community. Paired with a suspenseful mystery, follow along with Frog and Charlie as they help to save their older friend Aggie from two scary villains. What secret is Aggie keeping and why do these cinnamon gum-chewing ruffians want it so badly?
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Book Review of Charlie and Frog by Karen Kane
It All Begins In A Murder Mystery Obsessed Little Town
To say that Charlie’s parents are neglectful is a bit of an understatement. Two bathing suits in tow, they leave Charlie in smalltown, Castle-on-the-Hudson, with his equally apathetic and television-addicted grandparents. What is so important to the Ticklers that they’d once again abandon their son? Saving some golden moles in South Africa, of course. I can relate to Charlie’s parents’ need to travel and save the world, Bill Nye-style. But…this why I only have cats and not children.
Charlie senses his parents’ disinterest, especially with the looming threat of attending “faraway boarding school.” Determined to make his grandparents want him to live with them and his parents to act like parents, this disheartening family situation hangs like an ominous cloud over the story. Charlie must remedy his home life while solving a mystery.
Castle-on-the-Hudson is a murder mystery obsessed little town with quite the lineup of characters and a large Deaf community. The crime-solving addiction sparks from famous mystery author, D.J. Mckinnon, attending school in town coupled with the illustrious crime fighter, Vince Vinelli, who is always on primetime. Even the local police idolize and find criminals based on these fictional heroes. With Charlie bored and looking for ways to bond with his grandparents, he ventures out into town to the best place on earth: the library. Mystery cannot escape him.
Libraries, Books, and Knitting, Oh My!
While waiting for the library to open, Charlie finds Aggie—an older deaf woman with a worried look on her face. Enter Ms. Tweedy, the endearing and forgetful head librarian with pink lipstick on her teeth. When two brutes come looking for Aggie between the stacks, she signs a word to Charlie and hops out the window. Little does Ms. Tweedy understand, her library holds the key to one big mystery.
Concerned for Aggie’s safety and unsure what the sign means, Charlie heads to the Castle School For The Deaf. Visitors take the debatably safe (cough, totally sketchy) gondolas to the school, home to the quirky Castle family and our antagonist, Frog.
Small spoiler alert: Frog is a strong female lead with Smith College woman’s goals. Frog dreams of becoming a successful detective. Engrossed in Charlie’s mystery, Frog, who is deaf, tells Charlie that Aggie signed the word “dead.” Together they must help Aggie and find out what she is running from. All of this crime-solving is terrible timing with the Founders’ Day Dinner, and Charlie and Frog must solve the puzzle before someone gets hurt or ends up dead.
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One of Many Beautiful Children’s Books About Disabilities
Perfect for upper school-aged children and the middle grades, Charlie and Frog brilliantly integrates Deaf culture and the community into a thriller. The chapters begin with fingerspelling, which is how Charlie begins his education in ASL. Soon, the illustrations move to full on sign language as Charlie learns more about the Deaf community and how to sign.
All characters are portrayed as equally strong–no stigmas or misrepresentations–and readers learn a bit of sign language from the descriptions. Through Charlie’s passion and heart, readers learn Deaf etiquette and how to communicate in multiple ways. This insightful glimpse into the ASL world is not surprising, though, as Karen Kane is a graduate from The National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Charlie and Frog is well thought out from experience, support, and research.
Reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s humor and poor parenting-skilled characters, Charlie and Frog is not just another much needed multicultural chapter book about ASL or disabilities. A humorous read, Charlie and Frog opens about discussions about parents, family, friendship and love. At our hearts’ core, what do we crave most in this lifetime? Readers can fall in love with the relatable, large cast of characters.
All of the feels mixed in with the fast-paced mystery, makes this the perfect read for any middle schooler. Even though the vocabulary is quite simple, the ideas are more complex. Charlie and Frog will resonate and best be understood by 3rd to 6th graders.
P.S. I am biased–there are a lot of libraries and library talk in this book. Not modern day institutions either. Because Castle-on-the-Hudson is quaint and the equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle for technology, readers reminisce back to card catalogs. Kane is a girl after my own heart.
Thank you (Is a Kiss-Fist too much?!):
I would like to personally thank Karen Kane and Disney-Hyperion for sending me a free copy of Charlie and Frog in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Charlie and Frog: A Mystery written by Karen Kane and illustrated by Carlisle Robinson [Disney-Hyperion, 2018]
Learn more about author Karen Kane here.
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