Charlie and Frog: The Boney Hand

A Mystery


By Karen Kane

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Mystery-solving best friends Charlie and Frog are back for more adventures in this sequel by acclaimed author Karen Kane — now in paperback!

Charlie is the new kid at Castle School for the Deaf and one of the few students who is hearing. It’s hard to keep up (and fit in) when you don’t know American Sign Language. That’s why Charlie missed the most important detail of all about the Legend of the Boney Hand. It’s real! And when the Boney Hand goes missing, outsider Charlie is suspect number one.

Francine (aka Frog) Castle wants to be understood. Frog has been at Castle School for the Deaf her entire life. It’s hard to break away (and stand out) when people don’t take you seriously. That’s why Frog desperately wants to solve a mystery and show the world who she really is: a detective. But when the Boney Hand goes missing, insider Frog is suspect number two.

Together, Charlie and Frog must uncover the facts about an old legend and solve their latest case before the trail goes cold. It will take the help of unexpected friends and a daring race against the clock to finally reveal the truth. Explore what it means to be seen in this thrilling Charlie & Frog mystery from Edgar Award-nominated author Karen Kane.


For Linda Flick and Jerry Levy, of blessed memory


for Glenn Hulse, our miracle man.

And for their family and friends who love them.

Myra and Alistair Tickler were trying not to be lousy parents. Really, they were. They were even reading books—parenting books—from the Castle-on-the-Hudson library. One book recommended something called quality time, which Mr. and Mrs. Tickler were spending right now with Charlie, who was wedged between them on the couch, as everyone waited for the commercials to be over and for Vince Vinelli’s Worst Criminals Ever! to come back on.

Everyone except for Grandma and Grandpa Tickler. They loved the commercials.

“Oh, it’s the cow that wears purple glasses commercial!” said Grandma Tickler from her E-Z chair recliner. “I love the cow with purple glasses!”

Grandma Tickler held a jar of jelly beans on her lap, eating them one by one. Whenever she found a black jelly bean, she gave it to Grandpa Tickler.

“Ayuh,” said Grandpa from his own E-Z chair recliner.

“That’s true, Irving,” said Grandma. “The cow really does see better with purple glasses.”

Most of the time, Grandpa Tickler only spoke one word: “ayuh.” “Ayuh” meant “yes,” but for Grandpa Tickler it could also mean a thousand other things. Luckily Grandma Tickler understood nine hundred and ninety-nine of them.

As for Charlie, he was trying to rehearse for tomorrow.

He had to do well tomorrow.

He didn’t want to think about what would happen if he didn’t do well tomorrow.

But it was hard to move his arms and practice his sign language with his parents sitting so quality-time close to him. Plus the criminals, their crimes, and the commercials were at full volume (even though the closed captions were on), making it hard for Charlie to concentrate.

Vince Vinelli,” Mrs. Tickler remarked during the cow commercial, “seems like a very violent show to be watching during our quality time with Charlie. Don’t you agree, Alistair?”

“Indeed I do, Myra,” said Mr. Tickler. He held up the current book he was reading: How to be a Great Parent in Only Seven Days!

“This book clearly states that violent shows are not good for children. Or adults,” added Mr. Tickler. He wrote himself a note in his parenting notebook. He and Mrs. Tickler were learning how to be good parents to Charlie, and that meant lots of reading and note-taking.

Normally Charlie would have agreed with his parents—violent shows are not good for children.

But Charlie had to watch Vince Vinelli.

And there were lots of shows to watch, for in addition to the regular Friday night program, there were Vince Vinelli Special Edition! episodes as well.

When Vince Vinelli came back on, he leaned into the camera with a solemn look.

“Viewers, I want to take a short break from our worst criminals to ask you an important question.” Vince looked off in the distance as if gathering his thoughts. Then he nodded and returned his gaze to the camera.

“Have you ever,” asked Vince, “wanted to be a detective but didn’t know how to start?”

“Yes!” said Grandma.

“Ayuh!” said Grandpa.

“Well, stop wanting right now,” Vince told them. “Because for only nine dollars and ninety-nine cents you can buy Vince Vinelli’s When Crime Is a Fact, Good People Act detective kit. Inside this box is everything two people need to look like a pair of real detectives—for only nine ninety-nine!”

“Nine ninety-nine? That’s a bargain!” said Grandma. She put down the jelly beans, reached for the pencil and newspaper on the table next to her, and wrote down the phone number flashing on the screen.

“But, Grandma,” said Charlie, “it’s nine ninety-nine a month for twelve months. See the tiny words under the flashing numbers?”

Charlie stopped practicing long enough to do the math in his head. Turn the nine ninety-nine into a ten, and then multiply the ten by twelve.

“That’s almost one hundred and twenty dollars,” said Charlie.

“And if you order right now,” continued Vince, “I’ll throw in a Vince Vinelli’s Good People Do Good Things certificate absolutely free!”

“Not absolutely free,” said Charlie, “because you still have to pay nine ninety-nine a month for twelve months.”

But Grandma Tickler wasn’t listening. Grandma Tickler loved to buy things advertised on television.

“Yvette!” Grandma yelled for their housekeeper. “Where’s my purse? Irving, we have to order that kit right now or we won’t get the Good People certificate. And we’re good people!”

“Stop shouting, Irma,” said Yvette as she came into the living room. “It’s right here.”

“You can’t buy that, Mother,” said Mr. Tickler. “It’s a waste of money!”

“But it’s their money,” said Yvette. “They can buy what they like—as silly as it might be.”

“It’s not silly!” said Grandma. “We need those detective outfits! How else are we going to fight crime?”

“You’re not,” said Yvette. “Just because someone looks like a detective that doesn’t make them a detective.”

But once again Grandma Tickler wasn’t listening. She reached for the phone next to her E-Z chair recliner as another commercial came on.

Yvette sat down in the rocking chair next to the couch.

“Has he read any letters yet?” Yvette asked Charlie.

“After these commercials,” said Charlie. “I hope.”

When Vince Vinelli had announced that he would be reading fan letters at the end of each show, Charlie’s best friend, Frog, immediately began writing him a letter every day. Frog not only told Vince how much she loved his show, she also told him all about herself. Frog told him her dream was to become a detective. Frog couldn’t tell Vince that she already was a detective because she and Charlie had to keep the first case they solved a secret.

Charlie supposed that Vince Vinelli must get thousands of letters, but he still watched every episode, hoping Vince would read one of the letters Frog had sent. He knew how much it would mean to her.

Charlie continued practicing his sign language. He could see what he needed to do in his head. He just hoped his head would tell his hands what to do when the time came.

What would happen if his head forgot?

After the commercials about a skateboarding cat and a medicine that would help your headache but possibly paralyze you, Vince Vinelli’s Worst Criminals Ever! came back on.

“It’s now time,” said Vince, “for that special part of my show that viewers have come to love—Vince Vinelli Fan Letter Time!”

Charlie stopped practicing. “This is it!” said Charlie. “Fingers crossed!”

Charlie, Yvette, and Grandpa crossed their fingers. They always crossed their fingers at this part of the show. Even Grandma, who was waiting to place her order, crossed her fingers on one hand while holding the phone with the other.

“Why are we crossing our fingers?” asked Mrs. Tickler.

“For Frog,” said Charlie.

“Who’s Frog?” asked Mr. Tickler.

“His best friend,” snapped Yvette.

Charlie’s parents dutifully crossed their fingers, too.

“I love it when my fans write to me,” said Vince. “Of course, I mostly love it when they write about me.” Vince chuckled but quickly grew serious again. “Sometimes, though, my fans write about themselves. It’s important that I read those letters too, especially when the letters are from kids—”

Charlie squeezed his crossed fingers tighter.

“—because kids have dreams, just like adults do!”

In his mind Charlie signed “dream.” Ever since he had started at Castle School for the Deaf, Charlie thought about sign language all the time.

“And kids with dreams,” continued Vince, “have been writing me letters—”

Charlie held his breath.

“—such as this little girl who wrote me a letter—”

Charlie squeezed every single part of his body as hard as he could.

“—a little girl named—”

Say it, Charlie thought. Say Frog’s name.

“—Francine Castle!”

“FROG!” Charlie, Yvette, and Grandma Tickler screamed at the same time.

“AYUH!” yelled Grandpa Tickler.

Charlie and Yvette jumped up and down. Grandma waved the phone receiver around. Grandpa pumped a fist in the air. Mr. and Mrs. Tickler, unsure of what was happening, politely clapped.

Vince Vinelli held up Frog’s letter, written on her favorite frog stationery, in his very tan hands.

“Yes, viewers,” said Vince, “little Francine Castle, also known as Frog, wrote me a letter. Little Froggy told me her dream is to become a detective!”

Why did Vince Vinelli keep calling Frog “little”? Charlie wondered. And why was he calling her Froggy? Nobody called her Froggy.

Vince looked deeply into the camera. “Little girl, little Froggy, keep your little dream alive—”

Charlie desperately wished Vince would stop saying the word “little.”

“—because,” said Vince, “maybe, just maybe, you will become a detective someday. But if you order Vince Vinelli’s When Crime Is a Fact, Good People Act detective kit”—Vince flashed his blinding smile—“then you definitely will!”

The camera panned over to Vince Vinelli’s When Crime Is a Fact, Good People Act detective kit, sitting next to Vince in its bright red box. He gave the box a little pat.

“Viewers,” said Vince. “Little Froggy told me she is deaf and communicates in American Sign Language. So for little deaf Froggy I learned one sign—one special sign that describes her.”

Please, Charlie silently begged, let the sign be “powerful” or “amazing.”

Vince touched his index and middle fingers to his chin, thumb extended, and brushed his chin with his fingers twice. “Cute!” Vince Vinelli signed and then spoke.

“How nice!” said his mother.

“Very!” said his father.

“No,” Charlie groaned.

“Because,” said Vince, “that’s what this fan letter is, and that’s what you are, little Froggy—”

“Stop,” said Charlie.

“—very, very—”

“Don’t,” said Charlie.

“—cute!” Vince Vinelli signed it once more.

“So sweet!” said Mrs. Tickler.

“And such an honor,” said Mr. Tickler. “Vince Vinelli is very famous, you know.”

Grandma covered the phone with her hand. “Frog isn’t cute, is she, Irving?”

“Ayuh,” said Grandpa.

“I didn’t think so,” said Grandma.

“You know what Frog is?” said Yvette. “Frog is furious right now, that’s what Frog is.”

Charlie agreed. But at least, he told himself, Frog couldn’t hear Vince Vinelli’s tone of voice. But just then the TV captions included this at the end:

(Vince Vinelli is speaking in a voice that adults use to talk to very little children.)

Charlie sighed. Frog was definitely furious.

“We’ll be gone just two weeks this time,” Mrs. Tickler told Charlie the next morning as she closed her suitcase. “But don’t worry—we’ll keep up with our parental studies.”

“We’ll visit the library,” said Mr. Tickler. “There are wonderful libraries in Texas!” He made the sign for “library” by forming the letter L and circling it sideways twice.

“And wonderful bookstores, too!” added his mother. “We ordered some parenting books from Blythe and Bone Bookshop, but they haven’t arrived yet.”

“I wish they had!” said his father, glancing at the stack of library books on his nightstand. “Because Miss Tweedy said we’re not to take any library books across state lines.”

“I think,” said Charlie, “you’re allowed to take library books anywhere. You just have to return them on time.”

“Well, better safe than sorry,” said Mr. Tickler. He tucked his parenting notebook in his carry-on bag. “But I’ll continue taking plenty of notes, Charlie. We’ll get this parenting thing right yet!”

Charlie’s parents loved to travel everywhere and help animals. They had helped piping plovers in Montana, northern hairy-nosed wombats in Australia, and giant golden moles in South Africa. Now, however, even as they were preparing to leave again, they wanted to learn about children so they could also help Charlie. They were certain the answer could be found in books.

• • •

Grandma and Grandpa Tickler were in the kitchen eating breakfast, with a deck of cards waiting on the table when Charlie and his parents came downstairs.

“Good-bye, Mother. Good-bye, Father,” said Mr. Tickler. “We’re off to Texas!”

“Texas blind salamanders need our help,” said Mrs. Tickler. “Texas blind salamanders are too often ignored. We plan to give them plenty of time and attention!”

Yvette stopped washing dishes. She turned around to stare at Mrs. Tickler. Then she turned back to the sink, shaking her head.

“Well, take as long as you want,” said Grandma as she ate her oatmeal. “We love having Charlie here with us.”

“Ayuh,” said Grandpa. He reached over and patted Charlie’s hand.

“And we’ll be busy solving mysteries as soon as our detective kit arrives!” added Grandma. “Now, Charlie, you’ll have time for a game of cards before you leave for school, won’t you?”

Charlie nodded. “What game?”

“Concentration,” decided Grandma.

In the card game Concentration, you laid out all fifty-two cards facedown on the table. Then you turned them over two at a time, trying to find a match. You had to remember where the cards were—see them in your mind even though they were facedown. Concentration required a lot of concentration, which Charlie did not have this morning. But Grandma Tickler loved to win, so it wasn’t a bad thing for him not to concentrate.

Charlie helped carry his parents’ suitcases outside. Herman, the wizened little driver, got out of his taxi, took one look at the size of the Ticklers’ suitcases, and promptly got back in.

Charlie loaded the suitcases into the trunk.

“I just realized something,” said his father as he closed the trunk lid. “Today is Saturday. Why are you going to school on Saturday?”

“Maybe Charlie just loves learning, Alistair!” said his mother. “I know I do!”

“No,” said Charlie. “I told you. Don’t you remember?”

Charlie had, in fact, told his parents many times. The problem was they didn’t write it down in their parenting notes, and it wasn’t in their parenting books.

“Tonight is the Fall Extravaganza,” Charlie reminded them. “I have to get to school early to practice and help set up.”

“How fun!” said Mrs. Tickler. “But you don’t look happy about it. In fact, you look worried. Doesn’t Charlie look worried, Alistair?”

Mr. Tickler peered into Charlie’s face. “Yes,” he decided. “He certainly does.”

“What do our parenting books say to do when your child looks worried?” asked Mrs. Tickler.

“I took notes,” said Mr. Tickler. “But my notebook is inside my carry-on bag, which is inside the trunk of the taxi. Should I get it out?”

“Dad—” Charlie tried to speak.

“Yes, you should,” said Mrs. Tickler. “This is a parenting moment, which means we need those parenting notes!”

“Mom, I’m—”

“Open the trunk!” Mr. Tickler called to Herman.

“Dad, I’m—”

“I think he’s asleep, Alistair.” Mrs. Tickler tapped on Herman’s window. Herman’s forehead popped off the steering wheel.

Charlie sighed. “You’re going to miss your flight,” he said.

Mr. Tickler looked at his watch. “You’re right, Charlie. We’d better get going.”

“But when we get back,” said Mrs. Tickler, “we’re going to spend lots of quality time with you—Alistair! The taxi!”

Herman, not realizing the Ticklers weren’t in the taxi yet, had started slowly driving away. Charlie’s parents jumped into the moving vehicle, stuck their heads out of the window, and waved.

“Good-bye, Charlie! Good-bye, darling! Don’t worry! We’ll call! We’ll have quality phone conversations! Several of them!”

“Wear your seat belts!” Charlie yelled as Herman’s taxi rolled down the street.

If Charlie’s parents had taken the time to pay attention to him, he would have told them that he was worried.

He was worried about Frog because of what Vince Vinelli had said last night.

But most of all Charlie was worried about the Boney Hand.

Within the walls of Castle School for the Deaf, stories flourished and flowed. These stories were always swirling around Charlie. He could see them with his eyes, but he didn’t understand most of them because they were shared in American Sign Language.

But two stories Charlie did know well.

The story behind the statue of Alice and Francine in the middle of the great hall.

And the story of the Boney Hand.

Charlie knew the story of Alice and Francine was true. It was the story of how the Castle family founded the Deaf school two hundred years ago. Frog’s great-great-great (Charlie wasn’t sure how many greats, but there were a lot) grandmother, Francine Castle, had been born Deaf. When her parents learned about the first Deaf school in America, they went to visit. There they met a girl named Alice, who taught Francine her first sign—“frog.”

But the story of the Boney Hand? Charlie had no idea if it was really true. Here’s what Charlie did know:

One hundred and fifty years ago, pirates sailed the Hudson River.

When children spotted a pirate flag, they ran inside their homes and warned their parents to hide their animals.

Because pirates stole puppies as they plundered.

Pirates snatched cows as they pillaged.

Nefarious, as Chief Paley would say.

Which means bad.

Pirates were bad people. Everyone could see the pirates were bad.

And the most feared pirate of all was Jeremiah Bone, also known as Boney Jack.

Boney Jack looked bad—very, very bad.

Which meant he was supposed to be bad.

Except he wasn’t.

When the pirates pilfered a puppy, Boney Jack made sure the hound found its way back to its child.

When the pirates finished drinking their stolen milk, Boney Jack untied the cow and sent the bovine home.

Boney Jack never stole. He only returned.

This, of course, outraged the bad pirates. A good pirate was not allowed. All pirates must be bad.

So they plotted to get rid of him.

They bribed a wealthy, powerful landowner to falsely accuse Boney Jack of thievery. No one came to his defense. Everyone believed what was said about Boney Jack, instead of looking at who Boney Jack was and what he really did.

A pirate trial ensued.

Boney Jack was found guilty.

On a chilly fall day, Boney Jack was forced to walk the plank.

He sank to the bottom of the cold Hudson River.

The fish ate every morsel off Boney Jack’s bones until only his skeleton remained.

But Boney Jack’s story didn’t end there.

When the moon was full, one of Boney Jack’s bony hands left his bony skeleton. It crawled along the muddy bottom of the river. When it came to a bluff, its bony fingers clung to the rock and climbed upward to Castle School for the Deaf.

The hand inched its way to the graveyard.

And dragged itself into the church.

It was there the school caretaker found the bony hand crouched on the floor, covered in seaweed and mud. The caretaker walked slowly toward it.

He got closer.

And closer.

Until he was poised directly over the bony hand.

The caretaker bent down and picked it up.

Suddenly, the hand reared up on its bony bottom. It fingerspelled a message to the stunned caretaker, who keeled over in shock.

A teacher found him lying on the stone floor, next to the now motionless bony hand. As she gathered the caretaker in her arms, he used his last breath to tell her what the hand had said.

“It fingerspelled,” the caretaker signed to the teacher, “NO…ONE…SAW…”

The caretaker’s hands fell to his sides.

No one saw WHAT?” the teacher asked.

But the caretaker died before he could finish the message.

What had the bony hand been trying to say?

No one saw…what?

To this day, it remains a mystery.

To this day, nobody—

“Charlie, watch out!”

Charlie had been walking in the village, thinking about the Legend of the Boney Hand, when he bumped into Elspeth Tweedy. Miss Tweedy held a large pot out at arm’s length as something orange dribbled down the side.

“My goodness!” said Miss Tweedy. “I almost spilled Enid’s pumpkin soup! And my sister makes the best pumpkin soup.” Through her pointy eyeglasses, she gave Charlie a disapproving look.

“Sorry, Miss Tweedy,” said Charlie.

Matilda Blythe was coming down the steps of the Pig and Soap Bed-and-Breakfast holding a box. “Hi, Charlie! If you’re heading to the school, would you mind helping us carry these to the bookshop on your way?”

Matilda, along with her grandfather, Thelonious Bone, owned Blythe and Bone Bookshop.

“Sure,” said Charlie. He took the box from Matilda, who went back up the steps of the Tweedys’ bed-and-breakfast.

Elspeth and Enid Tweedy owned the Pig and Soap Bed-and-Breakfast. Elspeth Tweedy was also acting librarian of the Castle-on-the-Hudson Library and curator of the Castle-on-the-Hudson Museum, which Charlie had yet to see. Enid Tweedy owned the Naked Ewe, a knitting shop.

Enid came out of the Pig and Soap with a second soup pot. Knitting needles protruded from her apron pocket. Enid had used a knitting needle to protect Aggie Penderwick against Dex and Ray over the summer. Enid had once told Charlie she always liked to have knitting needles with her—for safety when needed, and for knitting when not.



    "An enjoyable read that artfully mixes adventure, heart, and cultural competence."—Kirkus Reviews

    "Kane's debut, a light and engaging mystery, takes on added depth through its focus on the Deaf community. Charlie longs for kinship with others; intriguingly, it's through learning sign language that he finds friendship and connection."—Publisher's Weekly

    "Kane is a graduate of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and she seamlessly integrates American Sign Language (ASL) and deaf characters into the story, subtly reminding readers that these are capable, complete individuals. A worthy addition to mystery collections."—Booklist

On Sale
Jun 4, 2019
Page Count
176 pages

Karen Kane

About the Author

Karen Kane has worked as an interpreter for the Deaf community for over twenty-five years. The people she met along the way inspired her writing with their strength, warmth, and humor, especially those in the Deaf community. Karen graduated from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, you can find her in the person as a sign language interpreter at Gallaudet University or lost in the stacks of her local library.

Learn more about this author