El Deafo by Cece Bell is the autobiographical graphic novel that tells Bell’s story of being deaf from the age of four years old and her experiences growing up in a hearing world. The graphic novel format was a particularly good vehicle for Cece Bell to use to tell her story. There’s a feeling of just-rightness about it–the fact that she is represented by a rabbit (as are all the characters) makes the whole issue of having devices in her ears obvious in the illustrations in ways that they perhaps wouldn’t be if she were represented as a human being. (Side note: I’m sure there’s more to Cece Bell’s choice of the rabbit than that, especially since she has a series of picture books about a rabbit and a robot, entitled–what else?–Rabbit and Robot. Maybe she likes rabbits? No, she sets the matter to rest in “Twelve Fast Facts About Cece Bell”–number seven.) Bell is able to communicate a lot of emotion and elicit feelings of empathy in the reader through the combination of her illustrations and her text. This story is full of humor, too; it is obvious that Bell knows how to laugh at herself. However, the humor doesn’t detract from the story of a little girl learning how to navigate the world. At school Cece wears a Phonic Ear, a remote hearing-aid that, paired with a microphone worn by her teacher, enables Cece to hear everything the teacher says. Cece has a love-hate relationship with her Phonic Ear; she loves it because without it she can’t “do” school well, but she hates it because she feels very conspicuous because of it. Cece also has much to learn when it comes to navigating the world of friendship, especially when some children ignore her and some are overly sympathetic. Surely even hearing children can relate to that feeling of “other-ness” that Bell so realistically portrays in her story. Although this is the true story of a child with a physical impairment, the emotions that are portrayed are not unusual ones, so this story could be a vehicle to give hearing children an understanding of what life is like for a deaf child. Plus, it’s just plain old fun!
Confession: El Deafo by Cece Bell is the first and only graphic novel I’ve ever read, and I was only motivated to read it when the pickings got slim for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge (meaning that I’ve read most of the 2010s Newberys). However, now that I’ve read it, I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. The genre–the whole interplay of words and images–was a little difficult for me to get used to, but I have to say I enjoyed it a lot. I am eager to pick up another graphic novel, and I think I’ll start with Melissa Wiley’s list. (Pssst! If you need more convincing as to why you–and your children–need to give comics/graphic novels a try, watch this!) Ten year old Louise snatched this one up and read it–the work of one afternoon or so for her– before I could find enough time to finish it. She LOVED it. We both give it a Highly Recommended. (Amulet, 2014)