Reviewed February 7, 2015.
Amulet Books, New York, 2014. 240 pages.
2015 Capitol Choices Selection
2015 Newbery Honor
2015 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Picture Books
El Deafo is an endearing and engaging graphic novel-style memoir. I’m not quite sure why everyone is presented as human-rabbit creatures, but that’s part of an informal graphic style that will pull kids in.
Cece Bell got meningitis when she was very young – and lost her hearing almost completely. El Deafo is her story of growing up deaf – wearing hearing aids, learning to lip read, and navigating the ways different people treated her because she was deaf.
Cece got to attend Kindergarten in a class with other kids with hearing problems, but her family moved and she had to go to first grade with hearing students. She’s given a high-powered hearing aid connected to a microphone the teacher wears around her neck. Cece discovers she has a superpower – she can hear what her teacher is saying or doing anywhere in the building.
But making friends is difficult. First, there’s the friend who dominates everything the two do together. Then there’s the friend who always e-nun-ci-ates (which is harder to lip-read) and makes a huge deal of Cece’s deafness.
Cece also illustrates ordinary friendship perils that become larger. For example, she can’t lip read at a slumber party once the lights are shut off. And that boy she has a crush on – what will he think when he sees her with her extra-large hearing aid at school?
This book’s friendly format will catch kids’ interest, and give them a glimpse of what the world might be like if you couldn’t take hearing for granted. No preaching is needed – Cece tells her compelling story, and kids’ eyes will be opened.