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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

El Deafo, written and illustrated by Cece Bell. Amulet Books, Abrams. 2014. $11.95 ages 8 and up

So, who all's here?
You're the first,
ac-tu-a-lly. But it'll
be Car-rie, Ell-en,
and Miss-y. I can't
be-lieve Miss-y's
com-ing - she is so
The other guests

Fans of graphic novels will not be the only ones who enjoy this new memoir from Cece Bell. Meningitis at 4 causes a loss of her hearing for the young girl. Suddenly deaf, she is scared and she is also confused by her dramatically changed world. Sticking close to her mother for security, Cece is not so sure about the hearing aid that her mother suggests she wear. It straps around her neck, and makes her look funny. Her hearing improves, but it is not perfect!

When she enters first grade, she is given a 'Phonic Ear' which is much better. It is strapped to her chest, and has wires up to her ears. Her teacher wears a microphone to ensure that the first grader is hearing instructions and able to participate in new learning. It is very funny to learn ALL that she hears! The captions that accompany a full-page rendering of the Phonic Ear are many, and funny. Readers will want to stop and enjoy each and every one of them.

When she realizes that her Phonic Ear affords her entrance to the staff room (she can hear everything when her teacher has the transmitter on) and the staff washroom...embarrassing! No one else knows what she can hear and she begins to think of herself as having a superpower...El Deafo is born. She knows exactly when her teacher is returning to the class, and saves the mischief makers from trouble. Those powers come in handy, time and again.


School can be traumatic enough for many children. When you add being deaf, things become even more complicated. Ms. Bell helps her audience see how she often feels ostracized and lonely because of her inability to hear all that is being said. She learns to lip read, and avoids learning sign language (thinking it will make everyone take note of her being deaf). A sleepover with friends is an issue when the lights are out, and she can no longer 'read' what her friends are saying. She only wants to be back home. Her quest is to find a friend who likes her for who she is, not because she lives next door, or is deaf, or for any other reason than they connect and care about the other. It's a tough task, but doable. In the end, Cece finds that 'just right' friend, and is content.
Both funny and poignant, this is a memoir that will give readers pause to think about friendship, and about differences. The terrific color illustrations and the clarity with which the story is told is sure to make this a favorite for many. If you are in a library, you might want to have more than one copy!

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