WEEK 5, El Deafo by Cece Bell
Bell, C. (2014). El deafo. New York, NY: Abrams.
If you thought elementary school was hard simply with the challenges of making friends and avoiding bullies, this graphic novel will make you think twice. El Deafo by Cece Bell takes the reader through the ups and downs of a little girl who becomes hard of hearing at an early age after recovering from meningitis. Cece has to overcome the struggles of being a little girl (or bunny in this case) who has wires sticking out of her ears, hearing aids. Her classmates and friends notice these dissimilarities and treat her differently than other classmates throughout her years. However, when Cece figures out that her differences can actually be something positive, like a microphone into the world of teachers, she discovers that she can be a superhero to all her classmates and friends afterall!
Keywords: deaf; hearing aids; the Phonic ear; superhero; friends
What I Think:
As my first graphic novel, I really enjoyed this story about a little girl going through the struggles of being deaf and having to be introduced to technology like a hearing aid. I enjoyed this book because of how relatable the main character was, while also having one major difference from most readers, hearing problems. For example, as many can relate, the main character, Cece, often jots down notes and thoughts about life, like a pros and cons chart, a list of facts about a cute boy, or even a common sleepover packing list. “Packing list: cute pj’s, toothpaste (possibly just for show), toothbrush, sleeping bag, clean shirt for tomorrow, pill-pill, extra hearing aid batteries (I do NOT want to run down and miss everything!!!), lean underwear, socks, Miss Bunn (may need to keep hidden??), birthday present for Ginny!” (Bell, 2014, p. 87). Even though this action and other events in Cece’s life are relatable, she still goes through unique experiences that can be diverse for readers, like sign language classes.
I also enjoyed this book because of the structure as a graphic novel. This structure allows the reader to experience dialogue and conversations the way a person who is deaf would experience it while also viewing the context of the setting and situation. Without being a graphic novel, the author would not be able to demonstrate this experience. For example, during a sign language class, the batteries in Cece’s hearing aids die (p. 109). This is represented by the words in the quote bubbles slowly fading until nothing is left but blank space. This scene allows the reader to experience exactly what it would be like to be in class listening when all of a sudden there is nothing there to hear. This scene would be a lot more difficult to illustrate through a traditional novel. For scenes like this with dying hearing aids, the structure of a graphic novel is best.
What the Experts Say:
When cartoonist Bell was four years old, a case of meningitis left her severely deaf. In this graphic memoir, she tells readers about the friends and family who help her adjust, the frustration she feels when learning to communicate, and the devices she uses to assist her hearing, most notably the Phonic Ear, a large machine that connects to a microphone her teachers wear and amplifies sounds in her hearing aids. Aside from making school easier, the Phonic Ear gives Bell a superpower: when her teachers forget to doff the microphone, she can still hear them anywhere in the school (including the bathroom!). She keeps her newfound superpower a secret and daydreams about being El Deafo, a super alter ego whose deafness makes her powerful. Bell’s bold and blocky full-color cartoons perfectly complement her childhood stories-she often struggles to fit in and sometimes experiences bullying, but the cheerful illustrations promise a sunny future. This empowering autobiographical story belongs right next to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (2011) and Liz Prince’s Tomboy, reviewed on page 58. -Sarah Hunter
Although this falls under the title of graphic novel, it also represents an autobiography as Cece tells her story about going through school as a person with a hearing disability. This book would be a great prompt and introduction for students to unique points of views or perspectives of everyday lives.
As an additional project to add to the discussion about unique perspectives, students could be challenged to write about the everyday struggles of others from different perspectives, like someone with a visual impairment, learning disability, or even nontraditional family. Students could do research on what it would like to live the life of someone different from themselves by talking to others in the actual situation, reading books about the situation or disability, and even searching on the internet for videos and journals from the perspective of people in that situation. After researching, the students could then create their own graphic novel to represent that unique perspective. For example, if a student wanted to write from the point of view of someone who was blind, the student could interview someone who is blind, watch videos about how people with blindness maneuver through busy sidewalks, and read about the accommodations for those that are hard of seeing. Then, the student would create a graphic novel (or simply write a story in this situation) from the perspective of a blind person.