Many of the books I review I seek out, but some come to me in unexpected ways. Along with the book Fleabrain Loves Frannie, I was given one I’d never heard of, called El Deafo by Cece Bell, a graphic memoir novel. I flipped through it — bunny characters, a deaf girl, school problems, and intriguing scenes like this:
|I love seeing Spock with bunny ears|
In this after school special, the character is deaf and some one calls them deafo, which causes Cece some soul searching.
I was hooked, started reading, and pretty much devoured all 230 some odd pages. It tells the story of a girl who contracted meningitis and lost her hearing at age 4. She gets a bulky hearing aid she wears in a pouch around her neck with wires and earbuds. It’s only partially successful. What she hears is not what people are saying.
She learns lip reading, but that’s not easy either.
At first she’s in a school with other children who have deafness. Then she moves and enters first grade with a device called the Phonic Ear, another bulky device, this one strapped to her chest, with more wires and earbuds.
The teacher must use a microphone, but with it, Cece can hear perfectly. In fact, she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in the building — the teacher’s lounge, the bathroom. When she get’s older, she finds that El Deafo, Listener for All can help mere mortals when the teacher’s out of the room:
El Deafo also urges her to defend herself against the indignities she suffers from bullies and manipulative friends. But it’s harder to manifest her El Deafo nature outside her imagination.
This is a funny and perceptive book and is a great read for anyone who has felt different growing up, but especially for those who have obvious physical challenges and impairments. Cece often lives in a bubble. Friends don’t seem to understand her. The one close friend she has abandons her after an accident. There are touching scenes of friendships gone sour, first crushes, and family interactions. The drawings are so expressive — tender and sweet and melancholy like childhood itself.
In her author’s note, Cece Bell, says, “El Deafois based on my childhood (and on the secret nickname I really did give myself back then). It is in no way a representation of what all deaf people might experience. It’s also important to note that while I was writing and drawing the book, I was more interested in capturing the specific feelings I had as a kid with hearing loss than in being 100 percent accurate with the details….But the way I felt as a kid — that feeling is all true.”
Though it is her specific story, it’s got a universal feel. We’ve all had to deal with shame and desires to fit in. And in overcoming that, we find a source of creativity. “With a little creativity and a lot of dedication, any difference can be tuned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”
Marketed to children ages 8 and up, I think it will help anyone tap into their superpowers, even readers in their 50s like me.
Cece Bell has written and illustrated several books for children, including the Geisel Honor book Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover and The Sock Monkey Series. She lives in Virginia with her husband author Tom Angleberger.
You can learn more about her at her website, click here, and see some of the inspiration for El Deafo, including a picture of the Miss Bunn doll that may be the origin of Bell’s delightful way of telling stories through bunnies.
|Miss Bunn was a gift when Cece was 4 and still in the hospital|
Thanks for reading my blog. For a very different but equally as fascinating graphic novel memoir, click to read this review of The White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez,
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