Charlie & Frog

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Charlie & Frog Book Poster Image
Fun, educational mystery introduces kids to sign language.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Awesome introduction to American Sign Language includes descriptions of signs and history of the language. Police Chief Paley is practicing her vocabulary, which gives exposure to words like concur, egregious, epicenter, protagonist, etc. Frog and Charlie use the library's Dewey Decimal System, which gives readers an introduction to the numerical catalog. Many classic books and authors mentioned.

Positive Messages

Good people act. Good people do good things. There are many ways to listen. Believe in yourself. Find your inner strength. Deaf people can! Be proactive. Family is what you make it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Charlie and frog are smart, curious, clever, and thoughtful. Charlie's parents and grandparents are neglectful of him. 

Violence & Scariness

Frog teaches Charlie words in ASL pertaining to murder, such as blood, kil, poison, stab, and so on. Scary moments in graveyard at night cahsing and being chased by prowlers. Frog punches her brother's arm.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Charlie & Frog is an educational mystery that offers a glimpse into the deaf community when protagonist Charlie meets a girl named Frog, who's deaf. Kids talk about murder mysteries and bodies and stolen treasures. At one point they are chased by thugs. Nothing terrifying, though the kids are encouraged by adults to walk around with sharp objects like keys in their fists to protect themselves. Charlie does experience symptoms of neglect, such as not being cared for or minded in basic ways by his parents or grandparents. However, he manages to make friends and eventually steers the adults in the right direction.

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What's the story?

CHARLIE & FROG, Charlie Tickler is dropped off at his grandparents' house in Castle-on-the Hudson while his parents travel to South Africa to help animals. It's what they do. But Charlie's grandpa and grandma are not really interested in Charlie. Their lives are centered on the television. While heading to the local library to find something to read, Charlie stumbles upon a mystery and meets a girl called Frog, who's deaf. Charlie had learned to spell the letters of the alphabet in American Sign Language (ASL) from his parents, who use it in the bush when they're stalking and animal. This prepared him to communicate a little bit with the hearing impaired community who now surround him. Frog is his best teacher, though, not only giving him a way to talk in ASL but also teaching him about solving mysteries, and about having friends.

Is it any good?

This playful and intriguing mystery successfully sneaks a large dose of learning into its lively plot. And that's hard to do. Putting educational content into a middle- grade mystery is like putting vegetables into ice cream-- you always know they're there, even when they taste like chocolate. And -- wink, wink-- author Karen Kane (who has worked as an ASL interpreter for the deaf community) concocts an ice cream store in the book where they do just that: put vegetables into icy confections. It's a metaphor that fits right in with the quirky goings-on in the fictional town of Castle-on-the Hudson, where the Castle School for the Deaf is preparing for its annual Founder's Day celebration.

The genius in this book lies in how intertwined chasing down the mystery and figuring out ASL are. When Charlie learns a new sign, the reader learns how to sign the word as well. When the mystery gets more complicated, the reader learns more about living in a non-hearing community. There are funny moments among the local characters, sad situations owing to Charlie's sense of abandonment, and triumphs in Charlie & Frog that all make for well-rounded, entertaining, and yes, educational, reading.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Charlie & Frog: A Mystery uses American Sign Language. Do you know any sign language? Have you used it? What do you know about communities like the one in this book, where people with a challenge rise above it?

  • A fictional television crime fighter named Vince Vinelli tells his audience, "Good people act!" When is this appropriate? When is it dangerous? When do the police need to be involved?

  • Grandma and Grandpa Tickler spend most of their days watching television. They ignore Charlie and can only relate to things having to do with television. How does Charlie change this? How much screen time is good for a family, in your opinion? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries and characters with physical challenges

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