A Superhero with Rabbit Ears: El Deafo, by Cece Bell

BookendsLynn: If you were going to tell the story of what it is like to lose your hearing as a child, adjust to that bewildering loss, cope with friendships, school, loneliness and public ignorance, how would you tell it? Would you think to tell it through graphic storytelling using a cast of rabbits? I certainly wouldn’t have (probably why I read books instead of write them) but it works. Not only are the characters rabbits but they are rabbits with hair! Bell manages to get a terrific range of expressions with just a few lines and very quickly the sense of rabbit-ness disappears as Cece’s story takes hold in the remarkable graphic novel, El Deafo (2014).

The characters’ big ears are the perfect
representation of what Cece has lost.

When she is 4, Cece’s hearing is damaged by a serious illness. The book follows the diagnosis and treatment and through her early years, first in a special classroom for deaf children and then in a regular school. Bell does an outstanding job of portraying the difficulties and frustrations of hearing loss. Hearing aids helped somewhat but they were bulky and conspicuous. Misconceptions about deafness abound in so many areas and Bell clearly shows how isolating the experience can be.

El DeafoI loved so much about this book! Bell put me right into her character’s head and gave me a real sense of what deafness means in the life of child. It is a bit of a gentle primer too into some of the ways people treat and speak to people with hearing loss and that was very eye-opening for me! (I know that I have done some of these very misguided things with my deaf mother.) This story is about childhood too and Bell skillfully addresses some very common friendship issues and how they are compounded by Cece’s hearing loss.

I especially love Cece’s coping technique of inventing a superhero—El Deafo—and dealing with so many of her frustrations in her imagination. Kids everywhere can relate to this and to the humor interlaced throughout the story. Make sure you add this endearing and enlightening new book to your reading list.

Cindy: Don’t just add this to your reading list . . . get it in your libraries for children, teens, and adults to read. The audience that wants another graphic novel like Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (2010) will be waiting for this one. I wouldn’t have thought of rabbit characters either, but the characters’ big ears are the perfect representation of what Cece has lost (and her family, friends, and classmates still have). And just like in Smile, you don’t have to have braces or major dental surgery or to be deaf or to be female to identify with the girl hero in these books. Middle schoolers will relate to Cece’s frustrations and triumphs and will cheer for her as much as they would any super hero, or best friend. Buy multiple copies. You’ll need them.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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