Books Worth Reading: El Deafo, by Cece Bell

Art from El Deafo by Cece Bell, 2014. Click here to enlarge.

By Scott Curtis, Teaching & Learning Librarian

Cece was a “regular little kid” until a bout with meningitis at age four left her unable to hear. This first person account takes the reader through many episodes in Cece’s life. Some of her experiences are unique to a person who cannot hear: being fitted for hearing aids, learning to lip read, getting a stronger Phonic Ear device for use at school. Other experiences are recognizable to most of us: finding new friends, moving to a new school, going to sleepovers, and having a first crush. What’s clear from this clever graphic novel is that Cece can’t hear without her hearing aids, but she is very much a little girl who is not much different from any other little girl. Or rabbit – as this is a graphic novel, and the characters are depicted as anthropomorphized rabbits, accentuating and drawing reader focus to the characters’ ears.

At one point, Cece and her siblings are watching an “afterschool special” movie – the type of entertainment designed by adults for kids to teach them some life lesson. Although she can only really watch the pictures, and not hear the television, her siblings help her interpret what’s going on with the characters. Cece notices that a character on the show is wearing a Phonic Ear. She does make out that the other kids are being mean to the character, and her brother and sister explain that those kids called the character “Deafo.” Cece laughs and thinks, “Am I ‘Deafo’ too?” In a moment of inspiration, she invents a superhero persona for herself, “El Deafo,” who must deal with a misunderstanding world and use her powers for good.

This book is an unusual choice for an academic library. However, the author deals with the story (based upon her life) in such an honest and real way that the reader empathizes with Cece and acquires a new understanding of the lived experience of a particular deaf person. As Cece Bell states in the author’s note at the end of the book, “…more important than how the hearing loss happened, or how much hearing loss a deaf person has, is what a deaf person might choose to do with his or her hearing loss. In other words, there are lots of different ways to be deaf. And there is no right or wrong way.”