Children's Literature Bookshelf

“El Deafo” by Cece Bell, illustrated by David Lasky Abrams Books, New York, 2014, 233 pages, Grades 3-5.

“El Deafo” by Cece Bell, illustrated by David Lasky
Abrams Books, New York, 2014, 233 pages, Grades 3-5.

Sound is one of the most beautiful gifts in the world. While it is possible to sense the rhythm and beat of music, being able to hear a musical score is a blessing.

But what happens to people that don’t have the ability to hear? What kind of world do they live in? They are no different than anyone else except for the fact that they can’t hear. Since so much of daily activity revolves around sound, deaf and hard of hearing people can miss out on a number of “normal” things.

I know this personally because I became legally deaf at the age of 6 years. Fortunately, my hearing was restored through surgery. However, I still remember seeing trees blowing in the wind and not being able to hear the leaves rustling. In some ways I didn’t mind the quiet as I had many brothers and sisters. But because of my surgery, I avoided many of the issues deaf people must deal with. I was lucky. Many people aren’t so fortunate and must live with deafness their entire lives.

Cece Bell is one such person. She became sick at the age of 4 and was left profoundly deaf. Since she once could hear, Bell had no difficulty speaking and has been able to successfully live in the auditory world. But her deafness made her school years painful at times. The book “El Deafo” is an autobiographical account of her journey.

At the age of 4, Cece becomes sick with meningitis. After several weeks in the hospital, she is released. But life has changed for Cece. The world is totally silent and she realizes that she is deaf. Before she goes to school, her parents take her to an audiologist to test her hearing. Luckily, she isn’t totally deaf and can function with the assistance of a hearing aid. Unfortunately, the hearing aid is quite large and has ear phones. Cece is embarrassed by the size of the hearing aid and feels that none of the girls will ever like her. She wants friends so badly that she puts up with condescending remarks about her deafness.

But all the time, she wants to be herself and to be accepted as she is. Yes, she is mostly deaf, but she wants to feel that she is valuable. Since she can’t hear what most of the girls are saying in class, she concludes that they are talking about her, the “deaf girl.” This makes her miserable.

Fortunately she begins to find a true friend in a schoolmate named Martha. Unhappily, Cece gets injured and Martha blames herself. Now Martha feels guilty and avoids Cece. As Cece tries to understand this she begins imagining herself a superhero. She is strong, brave and able to conquer problems.

She names herself El Deafo. Finally the day comes when she meets Martha. Both girls are frightened and scared. But Cece remembers El Deafo. Now is the hour and she walks up to Martha. What beautiful thing then happens?

Do the girls become friends again? Does Cece overcome her fears and the issues involved with deafness? How does Martha act? What does Cece learn about courage and self-acceptance? Why has she become a superhero by the end of the book? To find out, go to the library and check out this award winning book, “El Deafo” by Cece Bell.

This is a touching story about girls growing up in elementary school. The issues raised about deafness are treated with honesty, humor and sensitivity. This is a graphic novel, which means that there are many drawings on every page that accompany the text.

While the book is a thoughtful treatment of a hearing impaired child in a mostly auditory world, most children can identify with the feelings that girls have about themselves and others. This is a fine book. I hope you get a chance to read it and to encourage members of your family to do so as well.

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