El Deafo

by Cece Bell (2014)

Read to Them is very proud to present our very first graphic novel as a recommended title for Middle Schools and Intermediate Elementary Schools.

A graphic novel is rarely read or shared together.  But we believe Cece Bell’s memoir-cum-story is so special and inviting that it begs to be experienced and shared by children and adults – in families and in schools – together.

El Deafo tells Cece Bell’s own story.  She’s just another kid growing up in Virginia in the 1970s, playing in her neighborhood, watching TV, hanging out with her peers…when she begins to experience hearing problems.

El Deafo is the story of how she learned to navigate deafness and hearing aids as a youth – in the hot-blooded environment of elementary school.  It places readers in that context, experiencing the self-consciousness of a young girl navigating clunky, ungainly ‘70s era hearing aids.

But El Deafo is not sappy or after school special formulaic. Cece Bell is funny and witty and revealing and insightful, in her writing and her drawing, and in her narrator’s confiding insights.  Exactly what fine graphic novels do.  Pictures tell a story, too, but in the hands of a fine graphic novelist they allow the reader to read and see and feel the shifting emotions and psychology of its narrator.

Cece Bell’s story gives students, teachers, and families something new to talk about. Her sleepovers and fluctuating friendships and crushes.  Life in American classrooms and neighborhoods in the 1970s.  (What’s on TV?!)  And how a story is told, with deft illustration and economy, in a graphic novel.

We urge you to take a look and see if you can warm to the innovative charms of Cece Bell’s personal story and graphic novel.  It contains many of the themes Middle Schools look for these days: an uncertain narrator, the threat of teasing or ostracism reflected on somebody ‘different,’ the patient discovery of unexpected friends, and the more dramatic assertion of a sense of self as Cece embraces her deafness and imagines herself as the superhero, ‘El Deafo!’