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Charlie & Frog: 12/12/18
Charlie & Frog by Karen Kane is the first book in the Castle-on-the-Hudson middle grade mystery series. Charlie has been sent to Upstate New York to stay with his TV loving grandparents while his parents work to save giant golden moles.
Charlie has learned how to finger spell as a family way to communicate. It comes in unexpectedly handy when he meets a Deaf woman at the library who appears to be in trouble. When she disappears before he can actually help, the librarian points him in the direction of the Flying Hands Cafe, which is at the top of a hill and is part of the Castle, a school for the Deaf.
(I'm picturing this place as somewhere in the vicinity of two real world on-Hudson towns)
It's at the cafe that Charlie meets Francine, aka Frog. They're the same age and she's desperate for anything to do beyond working in the cafe. He has a mystery and she loves solving them. It's a win-win.
Frog, it turns out is Deaf. She has a hearing sister who is more or less willing to help Charlie learn the basics of ASL beyond finger spelling. Mostly though it's Charlie's own interest and enthusiasm that helps him learn so quickly.
The book has two mysteries. The first is the present day one. Who is the woman and why does she need help? And when she goes missing, where is she? Then there's an older mystery involving an alumna of the school.
Each chapter title is rendered either in finger spelling or as an illustration showing the sign being used. As Charlie's understanding of the language improves the chapter titles become more complex. Likewise, as his skills improve, more and more of the grammar of ASL bleeds into the text. It's a subtle but effective way to convey the differences in the language and to teach a little bit of it with out interrupting the narrative flow.
The book also fits into the road narrative spectrum. I place it at 336666 which puts it snugly in realistic fiction.
As Frog and Charlie work together, I'm tagging them as a couple, as in two travelers (33). As it's a middle grade fiction, they aren't a romantic couple but they are very clearly partners and equals.
The majority of the narrative centers on the idea of home as well as a literal home (66). Charlie once he befriends Frog realizes that Castle-on-Hudson could be the home he doesn't currently have with his parents traveling and it would be better than being shipped off to a boarding school he's never even heard of. Meanwhile, much of the investigating takes place at the school which is Frog's home.
The primary road, with the school-as-home being the destination, is the gondola which takes students to and from the school. That means of transportation I'm counting as off-road (66) but given it's fixed path, it could serve as a railroad. However, the gondola's path is more dangerous / less consistent than either an Interstate or a railroad, so I'm not putting it in the most safe category.
This book is a great start to a promising middle grade mystery series. The second book is The Boney Hand and it comes out May 14th, 2019.