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El Deafo
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New York Times Review
IN THIS APPEALING graphic memoir by the children's book author and illustrator Cece Bell, young Cece is only 4 when she comes down with meningitis. She survives, but her hearing doesn't. At first, like any newly and suddenly deafened person, she retreats into herself, scared and confused ("I stay close to Mama, no matter where she is"). Her mother coaxes her into trying her new hearing aid, which has a box she wears on a strap around her neck. She looks in the mirror: "Hmmm. Not great ... but not bad, either. ... Those cords though." She hears much better but still has trouble understanding. Cece's friend asks her if she wants "shoes" (juice) or a "goat." Looking at the Coke bottle, she says, "I'll have the goat!" When she starts first grade in a mainstream school, she is given a "Phonic Ear." She can hear, very well, but it's the mid-1970s and the technology is clunky: The Phonic Ear is a big box Cece wears strapped to her chest, wires running from it up to her ears. Cece wears the receiver, and her teacher, Mrs. Lufton, wears a microphone and transmitter. Bell's full-page illustration of Cece wearing the Phonic Ear describes the elements of the device and also conveys Cece's wry, spunky sensibility. "Underside of Phonic Ear: Freeeezing cold in winter, hot and sweaty in summer; therefore, undershirt a MUST!" Toward the bottom of this self-portrait, an arrow points to: "Underpants! AVERT YOUR EYES!" Cece and all the otherwise human-seeming characters in "El Deafo" have rabbit ears (and rabbity noses), a witty visual metaphor for the outsize role ears play in the life of someone with hearing loss. Cece's life is full of the drama and trials of any schoolchild, but deafness complicates them, and she sometimes feels she exists in a bubble of loneliness. At a sleepover, when the girls turn out the lights, she loses the visual cues she needs to understand what her friends are talking about, and she calls her mother to take her home. Everything changes for the better when Cece discovers that her Phonic Ear gives her a superpower of sorts. Not only can she hear Mrs. Lufton in the classroom, but she can hear her in the teachers' lounge ("That Jimmy Malone is making my life hell! ") and even in the bathroom: "Tinkle tinkle," then "FLUSH!" "I have amazing abilities unknown to anyone!" Cece says to herself. She begins to think of herself as a superhero, El Deafo. At first she keeps her powers secret. But in fifth grade, she gains new popularity with her classmates when the Phonic Ear allows her to warn them that their teacher is approaching. Thanks to Cece they can quit goofing around before she enters the room. "For the first time ever," Cece announces, "El Deafo uses her superpowers for the good of others." In an author's note, Bell acknowledges that some deaf people embrace their deafness while others want to "fix" hearing loss. "They might think of their deafness as a difference, and they might, either secretly or openly, think of it as a disability, too." That's fair, and honest. It takes a bit of an inner superhero to get along as someone "special" in a classroom full of "normal" kids. Bell's book should be an inspiration for those who are "different," and it should help others to understand just what being different means. Required reading isn't always fun reading. "El Deafo" should be the first and is definitely the second. KATHERINE BOUTON is the author of "Shouting Won't Help," a memoir of adult-onset deafness.
Publishers Weekly Review
A bout of childhood meningitis left Bell (Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover) deaf at age four, and she was prescribed a Phonic Ear, with a receiver draped across her chest and a remote microphone her teachers wore. Her graphic memoir records both the indignities of being a deaf child in a hearing community ("IS. THAT. AAAY. HEAR-ING. AAAID?") and its joys, as when she discovers that the microphone picks up every word her teacher says anywhere in the school. Bell's earnest rabbit/human characters, her ability to capture her own sonic universe ("eh sounz lah yur unnah wawah!"), and her invention of an alter ego-the cape-wearing El Deafo, who gets her through stressful encounters ("How can El Deafo free herself from the shackles of this weekly humiliation?" she asks as her mother drags her to another excruciating sign language class)-all combine to make this a standout autobiography. Cece's predilection for bursting into tears at the wrong time belies a gift for resilience that makes her someone readers will enjoy getting to know. Ages 8-12. Agent: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal Review
Starred Review. Gr 2-6-Cece loses her hearing from spinal meningitis, and takes readers through the arduous journey of learning to lip read and decipher the noise of her hearing aid, with the goal of finding a true friend. This warmly and humorously illustrated full-color graphic novel set in the suburban '70s has all the gripping characters and inflated melodrama of late childhood: a crush on a neighborhood boy, the bossy friend, the too-sensitive-to-her-Deafness friend, and the perfect friend, scared away. The characters are all rabbits. The antics of her hearing aid connected to a FM unit (an amplifier the teacher wears) are spectacularly funny. When Cece's teacher leaves the FM unit on, Cece hears everything: bathroom visits, even teacher lounge improprieties It is her superpower. She deems herself El Deafo! inspired in part by a bullied Deaf child featured in an Afterschool Special. Cece fearlessly fantasizes retaliations. Nevertheless, she rejects ASL because it makes visible what she is trying to hide. She ventures, "Who cares what everyone thinks!" But she does care. She loathes the designation "special," and wants to pass for hearing. Bell tells it all: the joy of removing her hearing aid in summer, the troubles watching the TV when the actor turns his back, and the agony of slumber party chats in the dark. Included is an honest and revealing afterword, which addresses the author's early decision not to learn ASL, her more mature appreciation for the language, and her adage that, "Our differences are our superpowers."- Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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