Title: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Illustrator: Cece Bell
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Graphic Novels, Memoir, Middle grade, Own Voices
There are a lot of absolutely wonderful middle-grade graphic novels out there, and El Deafo is no exception. This one is stellar.
First, let me be completely honest. I never read comic books or graphic novels as a kid. Up until a few years ago, I had never even picked one up.
However, I married a guy who loves graphic novels. Slowly, but surely, because I will read almost anything if it sits in front of me long enough, I gave them a try, starting with V is for Vendetta. And then the Sandman series.
So, when my daughter first started expressing an interest in graphic novels a year or so ago, I began to pick up the middle-grade ones. And that is how I came to read El Deafo, after seeing it on a library reading list. I studied Sign Language during undergrad, and visited Gallaudet University, one of the only university’s in the world designed to be barrier-free for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. One thing that I learned is that there are lots of different ways to be deaf. In the author’s note at the end of El Deafo, Cece writes about the differences in deafness, and about Deaf Culture, where sign language is the main way to communicate and deafness is seen as something that shouldn’t be attempted to be “fixed” with cochlear implants and other devices.
Cece Bell makes it quite clear in her Author’s Note that her experience as portrayed in her book is her experience alone, and shouldn’t be viewed as “right or wrong” from anyone else’s experience or perspective. I actually loved her Author’s Note almost as much as the whole story, and it is definitely not something you should skip over at the end when reading El Deafo.
In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, we are introduced to the story of a young rabbit named Cece who loses her hearing after a serious illness at a young age. It is the story of a girl – rabbit – growing up with a serious hearing impairment: how she felt, and how she handled the insecurities she felt when people treated her differently.
I loved how so much of the story is a humourous take on her personal journey through early childhood – particularly the elementary school years. First, she attends a school for deaf children, which is where she learns to lipread. However, her family soon moves to a new town and she has to leave the school that she loves. At her new school, Cece uses what is called a Phonic Ear, a bulky device that helps her hear the teacher. Cece creates a superhero alter-ego, El Deafo, to help cope with the trials that come along with adjusting to a new school and trying to make new friends while also getting used to the Phonic Ear. We get to see Cece’s innermost thoughts and daydreams as she interacts with her family, friends, and teachers. The illustrations are thoroughly appealing and incredibly cute, I really love that Cece choose rabbits instead of people for this book.
In El Deafo, we get to spend six years with Cece Bell. I wish it was more! Cece the rabbit is resilient, heart-warming, and incredibly funny. El Deafo, which is both written and illustrated by Cece Bell, is a beautiful gift for children and adults alike.
To wrap up, here’s a short review from my 9-year old M, and her thoughts on El Deafo:
I really liked the book because I like to read about people who are different from me. It helps me understand more about how others view the world. And I loved the drawings! Cece Bell is a really good illustrator. I give it 5/5 stars.