El Deafo is a graphic memoir based on the childhood experiences of author and illustrator Cece Bell. It is a heart-warming and funny read that sees Cece navigating life after becoming deaf at the age of four after contracting meningitis.
Kinder was never a problem for Cece as all her classmates had hearing aids and she was the same as everybody else. Then the family moves home and soon it is time for the first day in grade one at a new school. This brings new challenges, not only is there a new school to contend with but Cece attends with a brand new super powerful hearing aid…The Phonic Ear. The huge box she has to wear around her chest and the microphone that the teacher wears attract the wrong kind of attention. Desperate to blend in she is destined to stand out and Cece finds herself as the only deaf child in school which means trying to understand the reactions, responses and looks of the other children.
Cece is very alone and the Phonic Ear is the ultimate friend repeller until she discovers that she can hear her class teacher not just in the classroom but everywhere the teacher goes…the teacher’s lounge, the office, even the bathroom! Struggling, Cece finds strength and comfort in her alter ego El Deafo who is capable of doing and saying the things that Cece wishes she could. But is El Deafo capable of finding the one thing Cece needs more than anything, a friend…
El Deafo brings to life the experiences, problems, challenges and emotions of growing up deaf and the use of a super powerful phonic ear. What Cece wants more than anything is a friend. A friend who will accept her for who she is and not one that makes her feel different or stand out. One that doesn’t do sign language, talk to her loudly or talk to her real-ly sl-ow-ly. Along the way she encounters many relatable characters; bossy friends, completely unaware classmates, those who try to help but just make things worse and one who mistakes deaf for death.
Cece is a great character. She is quick-witted and eventually, with the help of El Deafo, stands up for herself and says how she really feels, finding her inner superhero and most importantly, a friend. Many of the awkward and frustrating moments for Cece are told with humour. There are the perils of lip-reading, the dangers of relying on visual clues and the problems in trying to decode facial expressions. And there’s those who want to help but misunderstand the effects of their actions. Those who turn up the volume on the radio to help Cece hear better when the actual problem is that Cece can’t see the people and can’t read their lips; the noise that sounded garbled has just become very noisy, and yes, still garbled.
There are so many important messages in the book. Whilst Cece struggles are largely linked to her hearing aid many children will relate to the struggles of moving home and city, navigating school life, the anxiety and awkwardness of new friendships, the journey to being accepted by others and accepting yourself for who you are and the first crush.
The great illustrations are lively and bright and are quirky as the characters in the story are all represented by bunnies. I’m a big fan of the text that fades as Cece struggles to hear things. The blank speech bubbles are very powerful and are symbolic of what it is like to live in a world full of noise but only silence exists in your own little bubble.
A superb read that raises awareness about some of the daily challenges that deaf people face and is sure to educate and help children understand what deaf and hard-of-hearing children have to go through each day. The author’s note stresses that this is just one experience of a child growing up deaf. Deafness is a wide spectrum and everyone has different challenges, difficulties and coping mechanisms. An important read for many and an essential read for any child who has contact with another child who has hearing difficulties.
Recommend for 9+.