- Craig Graziano
In El Deafo, author Cece Bell loses her hearing at age four. Despite this sudden tragedy, Bell's graphic novel memoir is an inspiring and even entertaining look at her childhood. Most importantly, it clearly explains navigating life in ways that would not occur to hearing people.
Young Cece makes her way through elementary school with the help of a very large hearing aid known as the Phonic Ear, which allows her to hear her teacher quite clearly...even when she leaves the classroom to go on her break!
Cece is afraid of people judging her for her deafness but also finds strength in how she overcomes it. El Deafo is the name of her superhero alter ego. Through Bell's narrative we see how lip reading is almost like a superpower, albeit one with several hindrances. If the speaker covers his mouth, turns away, or is in the dark, there's little chance at understanding him.
Television is a whole other problem. Before closed captioning, Cece had little chance to follow along with the shows other children were watching. Cameras will cut away from people who are talking mid-sentence; voice-over narration is absolutely imperceptible; and the lips of cartoon characters move inaccurately.
Bell draws characters as rabbits mainly to emphasize her hearing aid. This cartoony style will definitely appeal to elementary and middle school fans of Jennifer Holm's Babymouse series and Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Bell's fantastic memoir offers a full perspective on growing up hard-of-hearing that young people can understand and enjoy.