A hearing boy and his deaf friend use ASL, gondolas, and the Dewey decimal system to solve a mystery in Kane’s debut middle-grade novel.
Charlie struggles to be heard. His parents traipse around the globe saving rare animals, leaving him in the care of his grandparents, who would rather watch TV than engage. That changes when he boards a rickety gondola to the Flying Hands Cafe, part of the Castle School for the Deaf. There he meets Frog, an energetic deaf girl intrigued by a mystery swirling around her favorite author. The solid narrative includes a zany cast of characters (none of whom are explicitly racialized), a fast-moving plot, and a low-stakes but suspenseful mystery. What makes this story stand out is the depiction of Deaf culture and community, likely drawn from the author’s education and work as an interpreter. Uninformed readers will learn some signs and letters of the alphabet, both from the writing and the finely detailed illustrations heading each chapter, as well as absorbing information about ASL and Deaf etiquette. (For example, Charlie’s grandmother asks if he and Frog are sweethearts; when Frog asks what Grandma said, the embarrassed Charlie “almost wrote ‘never mind’ before he realized how rude that would be. Frog had a right to know.”) Deaf readers, as well as hearing children with deaf family members and others enmeshed in Deaf community, will see familiar cultural markers, such as the “Deaf can” motto and the school’s importance in the local community.
An enjoyable read that artfully mixes adventure, heart, and cultural competence. (Mystery. 7-12)