El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo

Image Credit: http://www.amazon.com/El-Deafo-Cece-Bell/dp/1419712179

Started: October 1, 2015

Finished: October 1, 2015

*Category/Genre: Graphic Novel/Memoir/Award

Published: 2014

Awards: Newbery Honor, 2015 and 2015 Eisner Award, Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)

Pages: 233

Themes: Dealing with disabilities, Coming of Age

Rating: 5 Stars

Age/Interest Range: 3rd grade and Up

I picked this book up from a student’s desk today. I had seen the cover before; I knew it was a Newbery Honor. I started reading the book (as I proctored their test) and couldn’t put it down. I enjoy graphic novels, however I do hate how they are all lumped together as a genre…because most are very different. BTW, I’m a firm believer that if graphic novels were just placed on shelves with all sorts of other books, they’d get discovered (and enjoyed!) by more readers.

Back to the book – Why did I think it was SO good? …At four years old, Cece gets meningitis and loses some of her hearing. We follow her through the difficulty of growing up with this disability. Many times Belle illustrates situations I would have never (slowed down to) considered frustrating for someone who has limited hearing: Listening to the radio, talking in the dark, mustaches, not being able to understand cartoons on TV, contributing to a conversation, gym class, making things louder doesn’t make them easier to hear…

Cece does face some bullying situations, and we see how it’s complicated even MORE when you can’t hear well. Many times she is illustrated with a visual bubble around her when the drawings depict her alienation.

Cece is sometimes perceived as “weak” by her friends. Some of these friends are good people, but they don’t realize that what they think is helping (talking too loud/too slow, referring to her as a “deaf friend,” trying to teach her sign language in passing), just makes Cece feel bad. Bell’s drawings PERFECTLY capture how very hard it would be to tell someone who is being nice – that what they are doing is offensive/annoying.

About early-to-mid-book, Cece “turns” into El Deafo (her version of Batman/person with super powers) when times get tough. This inner superhero gives her the strength to be heard! It’s all very comedic, yet inspiring.

Bell’s characters are all drawn as “bunny people,” and I just loved it. Commonalities all kids face while growing up are represented in this read, whether they have disability or not. Cece has arguments with friends, a crush on a boy, weird situations with teachers. Nothing all that different from most kids growing up. That similarity, balanced with the struggles amplified by lessened hearing, make for a great story that many can identify with.

At the end, in the acknowledgements, Bell gives thanks to her husband, Tom Angleberger, who happens to be the author of The Case of Origami Yoda series! Kind of cool!

Overall Literary Merit: HIGH

Classroom Possible Uses: I think this would be a fun read aloud (projecting the pics). It would serve as a great way to model graphic novel reading to those who have never given it a chance. I won’t reinvent the wheel on this one. I found a ton of resources online for this book, here are a few that stood out to me:

http://www.abramsbooks.com/academic/El_Deafo_TeachingGuide.pdf

http://marycrockett.com/2015/03/05/cecebell/

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