El Deafo is a graphic novel that tells Cece Bell’s own story of growing up in Virginia in the 1970s. Students love graphic novels and they are a great way to hook even the most reluctant readers with their colorful illustrations which support the plot and illuminate the world of the story. El Deafo is the perfect graphic novel to initiate the reading experience for families to share together. Cece Bell’s personal story is touching and hilarious, with plenty for families to recognize and discuss.
Cece Bell’s story begins with her doing all the normal 1970s kid things – hanging out with her siblings, watching TV, playing in her neighborhood. Life changes dramatically when she falls ill and her illness results in profound hearing loss. She must learn to manage her deafness, including wearing her Phonic Ear, the large and cumbersome hearing aid of the time. The book places readers in that context, experiencing the self-consciousness of a young girl still trying to fit in.
But El Deafo is not sappy or afterschool-special formulaic. Cece Bell is witty, vulnerable, and insightful in her writing and her drawing. The two aspects marry perfectly, allowing the reader to read and see and feel the shifting emotions of its narrator. One minute, she is excited to share that with her Phonic Ear she can hear their teacher go to the bathroom, and the next minute she is anxious when the lights go out at a sleepover and she can’t read lips anymore. We even get to see some pretty strong side-eye annoyance with the girl who makes a big deal out of using sign language with the non-signing Cece. And all of this takes place in Brady Bunch-era America with rabbit ears on the TV and records on the portable turntable. Ultimately, we cheer for young Cece as she creates a superhero alter ego – El Deafo – to help her navigate these challenges and more.
A humorous, compelling story presented in the graphic novel format will invite families to sit together and share. Along the way, the book provides rich opportunities to explore themes like the anxiety of feeling different, the desire to fit in, and the discovery of true friends. And Cece Bell manages to always find and share the humor, even in the bittersweet.