Written & Illustrated by: Cece Bell
Color by: David Lasky
Published in 2014
Genre: Graphic Novel, Humor, Autobiography
Grade Level: 2-6
Newbery Honor Book 2015
Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12) 2015
Summary: El Deafo is a autobiographical memoir of the author’s experiences growing up deaf, including the imaginary superhero she created to fight her battles. Cece was born hearing, but became deaf at age four after an illness. The book tells the story of the struggles she faced, the friends she made (and lost), and the “super powers” she gained with the use of her Phonic Ear.
I am a sign language interpreter, currently working with a kindergarten (soon to be 1st grade) student. This last year has been a year of discovering other people like her. She met my deaf father and some others in the Deaf community. She met a girl who is a year younger who also has hearing aids and they bonded. And she discovered El Deafo.
I picked up this book at the Scholastic Book Fair, and from the moment my student saw it she knew that the bunny was like her… She had hearing aids! (Though she was quick to inform me that they were not the same as hers.) By the end of the day she had conned me into reading the beginning of the book to her, paying special attention to the parts where Cece was at the audiologist. Once again, she informed me about the similarities to her own experiences.
A couple weeks later she brought her family’s copy of the book (one of her sisters had bought it) to school, and spent her time showing her friends the book and telling them about herself and how she was the same and different.
My student wasn’t the only one making real life connections though. Beyond all of the normal growing up experiences I read about in this book (sleepovers, crushes on boys, misunderstandings with friends, etc.) there were a few things I really connected with. One of the “super powers” El Deafo had was the ability to hear her teachers wherever they were as long as they were wearing the microphone, especially in the bathroom! Unfortunately for me, I know I’ve worn my student’s microphone to the bathroom… And so have almost all of her teachers so far. Also the Phonic Ear, the hearing aid device Cece uses, was the same type of device my dad had as a child. He has often said he misses that big thing, as it was the most powerful hearing aid he ever had.
Moving on from all the life connections, I have to say I really loved this book. It is so hard to find books with deaf characters and with substance. A lot of times you might find short books with signs included, but not ones that feature a deaf character and actually have an interesting storyline.
The way Cece Bell showed what her hearing loss was like through speech bubbles was probably the most powerful and impactful part of the book for me. In the beginning of the book, when she still had her full hearing the speech bubbles were what you would expect to see: regular and clear print. Once Cece started losing her hearing the words started to fade until all we could see were the empty speech bubbles. Once the hearing aids were in the words start to fade back in, but the clarity of the words was still jumbled at times. I think this is a fantastic way to illustrate hearing loss, and would be a good way to show other students what a deaf child is experiencing.
Final Thoughts: The one thing I had hoped for when I picked up this book was that Cece would learn and use sign language. Cece and her mother did end up going to sign classes, but Cece did not like them. Even without the sign language, this was a wonderful book and I highly recommend reading it. I would love to see another book like this, but with a character who is in the Deaf Community and uses ASL.
I give El Deafo five stars.