Review: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

el deafoEl Deafo by Cece Bell.  New York: Amulet Books, 2014.

Cece Bell uses the graphic novel format for her memoir of growing up deaf in a hearing family, with an appealing anthropomorphized rabbits standing in for people .  Born hearing, Cece became deaf after a bout of spinal meningitis at age four.  She traces her various adventures with hearing aids, using clever visual techniques to show the difficulties of speechreading and the many miscommunications that can occur.  In first grade, rabbit-Cece receives a new hearing aid called the Phonic Ear, which both embarrasses her with its size and impresses her with its powerful capabilities – when her teacher wears the microphone that goes with it, she can hear what the teacher is doing all over the school , even in the bathroom!  But she struggles to navigate friendships with hearing children – er, rabbits – when she finds herself bouncing between extremes of bossy best friends who want to run her life and friends who are so afraid that they will hurt her that they drift away.  And gradually, she creates her alter-ego, El Deafo, her internal superhero who fights the demons of growing up using the power of the rosette on her undershirt and a giant dose of creativity and positive thinking.  Though the author came late to American Sign Language, she recognizes that her story of growing up as a successful oral deaf child is not a common one, and she shares important background information about deafness and ASL in her author’s note.  Engaging and visually appealing, this is a great read for middle-graders – or for anyone!

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