Wednesday, January 22, 2020

El Deafo

El Deafo
by Cece Bell
Recommended Ages: 10+

In this graphic novel by an author mainly of children's picture books, Cece Bell narrates her own emotionally complex journey from losing her hearing at age 4 to finding friendship and acceptance in fourth grade. Dependent on a bulky hearing aid to help her keep up with mainstream school classes, Cece yearns for friendship and secretly dreams of being a super-powered hero named El Deafo. Meantime, she struggles against anything that makes her feel different from other kids.

Her adventures include a pajama party where she feels left out as soon as the lights go out (after which she can't read anybody's lips), being picked last when her gym class is splitting into kickball teams (she can never understand what everyone is yelling at her), having a crush on the mischievous boy across the street, and almost losing her best friend over a poke in the eye.

It's a funny, intelligent, deeply felt account of a girl's experiences growing up hard of hearing. The one discouraging thing about the book, in my opinion, is the pains the author takes in her afterword to emphasize that her book is only about her own experience and isn't intended to represent all the things other hearing-impaired people may go through. I just think it's sad that we live in a world where someone can't tell her own story without having to issue such a disclaimer.

But the story itself isn't sad at all. It's actually a joyful account of a girl whose family, friends and teachers (for the most part) supported her as she strove to be as normal as possible under challenging circumstances, and it gives young readers a vivid, fun-to-read opportunity to put themselves in the place of someone whose low hearing level affects their life in ways many of us might not expect.

Cece Bell's picture-book titles include I Yam a Donkey, Rabbit and Robot and Ribbit, Bee-Wigged, Itty Bitty, Smell My Foot!, You Loves Ewe! and the upcoming Egg or Eyeball?, due for release in March 2020.

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