Charlie and Frog


By Karen Kane

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All Charlie Tickler wants is for his parents to listen.

Charlie's parents have left him (again). This time they are off to South Africa to help giant golden moles. And Charlie? He's been dumped with his TV-obsessed grandparents. Lonely and curious, Charlie heads into the village of Castle-on-the-Hudson, where a frightened old woman gives him a desperate message-in sign language. When she suddenly disappears, Charlie is determined to find answers.

All Francine (aka Frog) Castle wants is to be the world's greatest detective.

Frog, who is Deaf, would rather be solving crimes than working at the Flying Hands Caf¿. When Charlie Tickler walks into the caf¿ looking for help, Frog jumps at the chance to tackle a real-life case.

Together, Charlie and Frog set out to decipher a series of clues and uncover the truth behind the missing woman's mysterious message. Charlie needs to learn American Sign Language (fast) to keep up with quick-witted Frog. And Frog needs to gather her detective know-how (now) to break the case before it's too late.
Discover the surprising ways people listen in debut author Karen Kane's page-turning mystery filled with humor, intrigue, and heartwarming friendships.

Edgar Award Finalist for Best Middle Grade Mystery
A Florida Sunshine State Award Book


To David, Hayley, and Isa

and to my mom, Louise

to my dad, Billy

and to my grandma Vera,

who taught me Kings Corners

Charlie’s grandparents forgot he was in the room, which is how he ended up watching Vince Vinelli’s Worst Criminals Ever!, wrapped in a blanket, terrified yet unable to look away. Charlie wished someone would send him to bed, but his parents had yet to come home from their date night and his grandparents had yet to turn around in their E-Z chair recliners and notice him. Also his grandparents couldn’t hear very well, so the criminals and their crimes were at full volume.

“When crime is a fact, good people act!” Vince Vinelli pointed his finger right at Charlie. “Good people do good things!”

“Good people—that means us, Irving!” Grandma Tickler shouted at Grandpa Tickler. “It’s a good thing good people like us watch this show—a criminal could be anywhere.”

“Ayuh,” Grandpa Tickler said.

Charlie fingerspelled the word “criminal” with his left hand.


At the end of the show, Vince Vinelli asked viewers to call a toll-free number if they spotted a criminal featured on the program. Grandma Tickler kept the telephone next to her recliner, ready to call, but of course she never did. Grandma and Grandpa Tickler never went anywhere except to the doctor’s office.

Grandma and Grandpa Tickler were, to put it bluntly, lousy grandparents. They would never think to take Charlie to the zoo or play a game with him or turn around to tell him to go to bed because a TV show was too scary for him to watch.

But if Charlie’s grandparents hadn’t been so lousy, Charlie might never have met Frog.

He might never have learned sign language.

He might never have solved a murder mystery.

Charlie’s grandparents weren’t the only lousy ones. Charlie’s parents were lousy, too.

They never tucked Charlie in at night or made sure he ate his broccoli. They never bought Charlie new socks when his old ones were too holey to wear. They never remembered that Charlie’s toothbrush needed to be replaced every three months as suggested by the American Dental Association.

No, Charlie had to do all those things for himself. But Charlie’s parents weren’t all bad—they liked to help. In particular they liked to help animals.

They helped yellow-blotched turtles in Mississippi, lesser long-nosed bats in New Mexico, and piping plovers in Montana. They traveled to Cozumel Island to help pygmy raccoons, and they traipsed through Australia to locate northern hairy-nosed wombats—and help them.

This would have been exciting if Charlie had been allowed to come along and help, too. But Charlie was always left in the care of a nanny who was near—but not too near—wherever his parents were helping. Eventually Mr. and Mrs. Tickler would return, pack up Charlie and their belongings, and set off again to find new animals that needed help.

But this time Charlie’s parents had a better idea. This time they had packed up Charlie and their belongings and stopped by Castle-on-the-Hudson before flying off to—

“Africa,” Mr. Tickler said the next morning.

Grandpa Tickler cupped a hand to his ear.

“They want to leave Charlie with us,” Grandma Tickler shouted to Grandpa Tickler, “because moles in Africa need them!”

“Giant golden moles,” Mr. Tickler said, “in South Africa, to be precise.”

“So that’s why you’re here,” Grandma Tickler said. “We wondered why you came to visit us. With so many suitcases, too. You haven’t visited us once since Charlie was little, you know.”

Charlie sat on the top of the stairs. He eavesdropped and fingerspelled GIANT GOLDEN MOLES. Yvette, his grandparents’ housekeeper, was vacuuming the upstairs hallway—with the vacuum turned off. She could see Charlie was eavesdropping and glared at him. But Yvette was eavesdropping, too, so Charlie ignored her and concentrated on the conversation in the parlor.

“We’re terribly sorry we haven’t visited more often,” Mrs. Tickler said. “But we’ve been busy, you see, busy with important work.”

“So busy,” Mr. Tickler said, “that we forgot about the two of you. And when we did remember, we remembered you are grandparents, and grandparents can be very useful.”

“Exactly,” Mrs. Tickler said. “Why have a nanny when there are grandparents available?”

“Well…” Grandma Tickler began.

Charlie leaned forward.

“It’s not that we don’t want Charlie here, but we have very busy lives. Every morning we eat breakfast and take our pills. Then we have a doctor’s appointment—sometimes two appointments, isn’t that right, Irving?”

“Ayuh,” Grandpa Tickler said.

“Then we eat lunch,” Grandma Tickler went on, “then nap, then dinner, then our shows. We have our game shows, our cooking shows…”

“Don’t know why they watch cooking shows,” Yvette whispered. “I do all the cooking.”

“…our news shows. There are horrible things we need to know about. Then we have our investigative crime shows.”

“Ayuh,” Grandpa Tickler agreed.

“Charlie is very independent,” Mr. Tickler said.

“And,” Mrs. Tickler added, “he doesn’t need much care.”

Charlie leaned back and rested his chin in his hands.

“I suppose we could keep him,” Grandma Tickler said, “if Charlie doesn’t need us to do anything. And I suppose if he does need something, like help with bathing and such, Yvette could do it.”

Yvette shook her head and swiped her duster like a sword. She glared even harder at Charlie, who, at ten years old, was insulted his grandparents thought he needed help bathing.

And so it had been decided. Charlie’s parents were to leave for South Africa to help giant golden moles, while Charlie was to be left in an enormous house with two old people and their housekeeper, none of whom wanted him there.

Mr. Tickler held up his Speedo and fingerspelled BATHING SUIT. “Should I bring one bathing suit or two?” he asked Mrs. Tickler.

As a boy, Mr. Tickler had learned some American Sign Language. Although he had forgotten most of the signs, he remembered the manual alphabet. He taught Mrs. Tickler how to fingerspell so they could communicate in the wilderness and not make a sound. They practiced constantly.

“Bring two,” Mrs. Tickler advised. “That way one bathing suit can completely dry. Putting on a wet bathing suit is a terrible thing.”

Charlie’s fingers flew as his parents sorted through their belongings, deciding what to pack for South Africa. TERRIBLE THING. Charlie learned to fingerspell by watching his parents. He was much faster than either one of them.

“You can’t pack a big bottle of sunscreen in your carry-on suitcase,” Charlie reminded his mother. BOTTLE.

“Oh, you’re right, darling. Thanks,” Mrs. Tickler said and fingerspelled:

T. Pause.

H. Pause.

A. Pause.

N. Pause.

K. Pause.


Mrs. Tickler gave a satisfied sigh and went back to her packing.

“Castle-on-the-Hudson is a marvelous village, Charlie,” Mr. Tickler said. “You can explore on your own, just like I did as a kid. I’ll leave you some spending money. I wonder if Mr. Woo still works at the library.”

Mr. Tickler reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills. “Gee, I only have hundred-dollar bills. You don’t happen to have any change, do you, Charlie?”

Mrs. Tickler snapped her suitcase shut. “Now, darling, we will only be gone for three weeks.”

“Really?” Charlie asked. Last time his parents were gone for three months.

“Of course! After all, we have to take you to that faraway boarding school on September first.”

“Boarding school? What boarding school?”

“The boarding school we enrolled you in,” Mrs. Tickler said, “far away from us. I thought we told you. Didn’t we tell Charlie, Alistair?”

“I thought we had,” Mr. Tickler said. “Now, Charlie, about that change?”

“You didn’t tell me,” Charlie said. “You never said anything about sending me to boarding school. I don’t want to go to boarding school.”

Actually Charlie didn’t know what he wanted except that he wanted to be asked what he wanted.

“Of course you want to go,” Mrs. Tickler said. “And more importantly, we want you to go. It’s getting far too complicated to find care for you while we do our helping.”

“Why can’t I stay here?” Charlie asked. “With Grandma and Grandpa Tickler?”

“Three weeks is one thing,” Mr. Tickler said. “Forever is another. But who knows? Maybe your grandparents will want you to stay forever!”

Mr. and Mrs. Tickler burst into peals of laughter.

“Oh, that’s a good one!” Mrs. Tickler said, wiping her eyes. “There you go, Charlie. Get your grandparents to want you to stay forever. You have three weeks to do it.”

A horn honked outside. Mr. and Mrs. Tickler hurried to finish their packing. A wizened little man named Herman had arrived to pick them up. His taxi looked even older than he did. Mrs. Tickler handed Herman her carry-on bag. Herman struggled before he finally let it drop to the ground.

“I’ll get it,” Charlie said. He quickly stowed the carry-on bag into the trunk along with the rest of the luggage.

Charlie’s parents had already said good-bye to Grandma and Grandpa Tickler. They started to say their good-byes to Charlie, but Herman, not realizing the Ticklers weren’t in the car yet, slowly started driving away. Mr. and Mrs. Tickler jumped into the moving taxi, stuck their heads out of the window, and waved.

“Good-bye, Charlie! Good-bye, darling! Wish us luck! We’ll call and write if we can!”

“Wear your seat belts!” Charlie yelled as Herman rolled out of sight.

Charlie lowered his waving hand. He wanted to run after Herman’s taxi and tell his parents one thing. One very important thing.


A storm blustered through Castle-on-the-Hudson the day Charlie’s parents left town. Rain pounded on the roof and lashed at the windows while Charlie explored his grandparents’ house. He opened doors and drawers, and investigated nooks and crannies. Everything was very dusty. Yvette cleaned with a feather duster, true. But she did so while reading a book.

Lightning lit up the living room just before dinner. The television sizzled and went blank.

“Yvette!” Grandma Tickler hollered. “Lightning hit the antenna again!”

Yvette came out of the kitchen. “I’ll call Herman later,” she said.

“Tell him to come now,” Grandma Tickler said. “It’s an emergency!”

“Herman cannot fix an antenna in a lightning storm,” Yvette said.

“Why not?” Grandma Tickler demanded.

“Herman the taxi driver?” Charlie said. “He’s going to fix the antenna on the roof?” Charlie couldn’t imagine the little man fixing something on the ground, much less something that high up.

“Herman can fix anything,” Grandma Tickler said. “We had a special harness made in case he falls off the ladder. Or the roof.”

“Ayuh,” Grandpa Tickler said.

“I hope we eat soon,” Grandma Tickler said, “because now we have nothing else to do.”

• • •

The next day the sun shone hot and bright. Herman stepped out of the taxi and strapped on the harness. Charlie stood outside and watched. Herman gripped the edges of the ladder. He placed one foot on the first step, braced himself, and then pulled the other foot up. He paused and took a breath. Charlie counted one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi. Then Herman placed a foot on the second rung. He braced, then (one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi) pulled himself up.

Charlie went inside. Grandma and Grandpa Tickler were sitting in their E-Z chair recliners, waiting for the TV to turn on again. Charlie was anxious to see the village.

“Can I walk to the library?” he asked.

“Too dangerous,” Grandma Tickler said. “Criminals are out there, waiting to pounce.”

“Dad told me he used to walk to the library alone when he was my age,” Charlie said as his hand fingerspelled DANGEROUS.

“Then take a weapon,” Grandma Tickler advised as she stood up. “Vince Vinelli recommends a key. You’ll need to know how to use it. Irving! Help me show Charlie the secret to self-defense.”

Grandpa Tickler popped out of his E-Z chair recliner with surprising speed.

“Hold the key like this, Charlie.” Grandma Tickler gripped the front door key tightly. “Now, Irving, try and rob me.”

“Ayuh,” Grandpa Tickler said.

Charlie’s grandparents turned to face each other and bowed. Like two archnemeses, they slowly circled each other. Grandma Tickler threw the first punch. Grandpa tried to spin around, but toppled over instead. Charlie caught him just in time. Grandpa Tickler shrugged off the help. He ruthlessly sliced air. Finally, in slow motion, he lunged toward Grandma Tickler, who punched him in the arm with the house key. Grandpa Tickler grabbed his arm and staggered backward.

“Fire!” Grandma Tickler shouted.

Charlie jumped. “Fire? Where?”

“Vince Vinelli says if you yell ‘fire,’ people come running,” Grandma Tickler said. “If you yell ‘thief,’ people ignore you.”

Yvette came down the stairs with her feather duster and book. “Irma and Irving, isn’t there a show you should be getting ready to watch?”

Grandma Tickler tucked the house key into Charlie’s hand.

“Criminals,” Grandma Tickler said as she headed back to her recliner. “They’re everywhere.”

Charlie kept a watchful eye as he walked. But Castle-on-the-Hudson, with its leafy green streets and Victorian houses painted in bright colors, did not seem like a place where criminals came to commit crimes. Charlie turned onto a street crowded with cafés and shops. Outside a café called Coffee & Cookies, a dog was drinking from a water bowl.

A young couple passed by the dog.

“What do you mean there’s no cell phone service?” The man held his phone up to his ear. “We’re an hour north of New York City.”

“There’s something odd about this place,” the woman said. “Cell phones don’t work, and there are red telephone booths everywhere.”

Charlie walked past the couple and toward a pink Victorian home on the corner of State and Main Streets. He read the crooked plaque affixed to a large stone near the sidewalk.




A tiny old woman sat knitting on the library steps, craning her neck to peer down the street. She looked at Charlie, tapped her wrist, and gestured impatiently toward the library.

“It’s not ten yet,” Charlie said. “Five more minutes.”

The woman returned to her knitting and looking.

Knit, crane, look.

Knit, crane, look.

Charlie breathed in the coffee-scented air that swirled around the village. He gazed toward the Hudson River. He noticed two cables stretching from the village riverfront to a castle perched high on a cliff. Charlie glanced back at the library. The woman patted the porch step and gestured for him to sit down.

“Oh. No, thank you,” Charlie said. “I’m fine.”

The tiny woman patted the porch step again—much harder this time—and pointed at Charlie. He walked up the steps and sat down. She had a red knitted flower pinned to her dress, and a large black mole on her wrinkled cheek. The mole looked bigger and bigger the longer Charlie stared at it. The woman continued knitting from a ball of red yarn.

It was awkward sitting in silence together.

“I’m Charlie,” Charlie said at last.

The woman didn’t respond. Instead she pointed to her wrist again with a questioning look. Why didn’t she just speak?

Charlie showed her his watch. “It’s only nine fifty-seven.”

She touched the fingertips of her hand to her chin, and then brought her hand forward.

Sign language! She was using sign language. He bet that sign meant “thank you.”

Charlie pointed to himself. CHARLIE, he fingerspelled.

The woman put down her knitting needles. Her small hands flurried with signs.

Charlie shook his head. I DON’T UNDERSTAND, he fingerspelled again.

The woman sighed. She pointed to herself and fingerspelled her name. AGGIE. Then she picked up her knitting and continued her watchful waiting.

Knit, crane, look.

Knit, crane, look.

Aggie wasn’t just watching and waiting. Aggie was watching, waiting, and worrying. Aggie was on the verge of tears.

Charlie tapped her shoulder. ARE YOU OKAY? he asked.

Aggie shook her head and opened her watery eyes wide. Charlie knew that trick. It didn’t always work to keep the tears from falling, though. Before Charlie could ask another question, a lady with a bun of bubble-gum-pink hair that perfectly matched the bubble-gum-pink library marched up the sidewalk. Aggie shoved her knitting into her canvas bag and stood. She was only a little taller than Charlie.

The pink-haired lady held a pitcher of iced tea with floating slices of peach. She wore a name tag—MISS TWEEDY, ACTING LIBRARIAN.

“Lovely day for knitting,” Miss Tweedy said to Aggie. Then she looked down through her pointy glasses at Charlie. “Are you Charlie Tickler, Irma and Irving’s grandson?”

Charlie nodded. How did she know that?

“If you are wondering how I knew that, the answer is simple,” Miss Tweedy said. “You have Irving’s nose.” She gazed up at the library as Charlie felt his nose.

“It’s time you were opened, wouldn’t you agree?” Miss Tweedy asked the library. “Well, you’ll have to wait a few minutes longer.” She sat down next to Charlie.

Aggie stamped her foot. Miss Tweedy looked up. Aggie tapped her wrist and pointed to the library door.

Miss Tweedy nodded. “I completely agree—punctuality is so important. However, I dropped my library keys in Herman’s taxi yesterday. Herman promised to meet me here at ten and return them.”

“Aggie is Deaf,” Charlie said. “She uses sign language.”

“Is that so? It just so happens I’m fluent in sign language!” Miss Tweedy said. “But I’m also extremely forgetful. Give me a moment—it’ll come back to me.”

Aggie pulled a pencil and paper from her bag. She gestured for Miss Tweedy to write. Miss Tweedy explained about waiting for the library keys. Aggie shook her head and sat back down. The open-eye trick hadn’t worked. A tear slid down her cheek.

“It’s awful when a patron is upset when the library doesn’t open on time,” Miss Tweedy said. “I wish I had glasses out here to serve peach iced tea. Everything is better with peach iced tea.”

“I think it’s more than that,” Charlie said. “I think Aggie is worried about something.”

Miss Tweedy took Aggie’s pencil again and wrote: What’s wrong? Can we help you?

Aggie rubbed the tear away with the back of her hand and wrote: I need to get into the library—now.

“See?” Miss Tweedy said. “It is about the library.”

“Ask her why,” Charlie said. “Why does she need to get in?”

Miss Tweedy did. Aggie read her question and gave a ragged sigh. Finally she wrote: I did something awful. Really awful.

“Oh dear,” Miss Tweedy said. “I wasn’t expecting that. Whatever could it be?”

“Ask her,” Charlie said.

Miss Tweedy wrote down the question for Aggie.

I told a secret, Aggie replied. I have to fix it before something happens.

Before something happens? Miss Tweedy didn’t need Charlie’s urging to write: Like what?

Theft! Aggie wrote. Or destruction! Or worse!

“How horrendous!” Miss Tweedy said.

A car honked.

“Oh, there’s Herman. Get the keys for me, would you, Charlie?”

Charlie hurried to the curb. The taxi slowed but did not stop. Herman flung the keys through the open passenger window.

Aggie’s leg quivered as she waited for Miss Tweedy to unlock the door. Once the library was open, Aggie hurried in and disappeared into the library stacks. Charlie hoped Aggie could right her wrong—whatever it was.

The inside of the library, like the outside of the library, did not look at all like a library.

It was more like a house with too many books and no place to put them. Books that did not fit onto the shelves were piled on tables and on the floor next to big, squishy chairs. A grandfather clock ticktocked in a corner. A portrait of a stern man in a pink suit hung above the fireplace.

Charlie stumbled over a cat that had wandered from between the stacks. The cat eyed Charlie with irritation.

Miss Tweedy hurried to the circulation desk, where she pulled white cards from the backs of books, dabbed a rubber stamp with ink, and stamped the cards.


“Miss Tweedy?” Charlie said.


“I’d like to—”


“Get-a-library-card-please,” Charlie finished in a rush, before the next thwack.

Miss Tweedy paused her thwacking long enough to peer at Charlie through her pointy glasses.

“Peach iced tea?”


“Would you care for some peach iced tea?” Miss Tweedy gestured to the iced tea pitcher sitting on the counter. “Enid makes the best peach iced tea. Everything is better with peach iced tea, don’t you think?” Pink lipstick covered Miss Tweedy’s front teeth.

“No, thank you,” Charlie said. “Just a library card, please.” He casually rubbed a finger over his own front teeth, hoping Miss Tweedy would get the hint. Miss Tweedy did not.

“My offer of peach iced tea was my way of stalling for time,” Miss Tweedy said. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Visitors typically aren’t allowed library cards.”

She bit her bottom lip with a look of tender sympathy.

“But I’m not a visitor,” Charlie said. “I’m living here with my grandparents.”


  • "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
  • "The mystery here is entertaining, but what makes the book unique is its positive and thorough incorporation of deafness. 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
Mar 19, 2019
Page Count
272 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