I was asked to read this book by a teacher at my school. All us teachers were given a different book and had to feed back to each other what we liked and didn’t like about them, considering which year groups or types of children might enjoy them. I was excited when I found out I had this graphic novel to read, as bar Tin Tin, I haven’t really read any before. The first thing I noticed when I looked at the front cover was the comment from R J Palcio, author of the much loved ‘Wonder’. I knew I was onto a good thing if she liked it! This task was a good nudge to encourage me to read something different and expand my knowledge of what types books are out there. I ended up concluding that this book would be great for anyone KS2+. If you see it – pick it up!
This story is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel of the author Cece Bell. When she was four years old, she had an illness which left her deaf. Her story takes us through her schooling, how she learnt how to lip read and the kinds of technology she used to help her hear more clearly. I felt quite naive when I read this book, as I hadn’t really considered how every day things could be particularly challenging if you have a hearing impediment. For example, trying to understand voice overs on TV as lip reading is impossible, or when a teacher turns turns to look at a whiteboard resulting in the same problem. I hadn’t really understood the fundamental significance of reading lips and body language in order to communicate for people with hearing impediments. Speaking louder doesn’t necessarily help either. With this in mind, it seems that Cece’s decision to make her story a graphic novel was ingenious. It really helped show these challenges visually: having speech bubbles fade; illustrating when words get jumbled and highlighting the importance of reading body language. At the same time, showing Cece in a bubble when she was feeling lonely and isolated due to her deafness or struggles with her friends, helped me really understand how she was feeling and made me look back to times when I felt like that too. Her fantasy of being the superhero ‘El Deafo’ demonstrated times where she feels empowered and she wears her deafness as a shield and uses it as a kind of power.
El Deafo addresses the challenges that Cece Bell faced at school, with friends and her crushes! These challenges aren’t exclusively due to her deafness, I am sure that most people can relate to the dilemmas that she faces. For example, she struggles when she has a best friend who gets jealous when she wants to play with other people.
At the end of the book, there are notes from the author about her life and information on how different people view being deaf. This includes how some people do not view being deaf as a disability, just something that is part of them and they wouldn’t change it. Some people choose to only sign and not use technology to help them hear. There are a range communities who choose different tools and strategies to communicate.
As I have commented before, there seems to be a real surge in children’s books about people who in one form or another have physical or mental challenges. Books I have read which fit in this broad category include: Wonder by R J Palacio; How to Look for a Lost Dog, by Ann M Martin; The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd and Out of my Mind by Sharon M Draper. I think that is nowadays we are all more open in discussing and celebrating difference. The Paralympic Games, for one, has given us all the opportunity to learn and be inspired by the resilience and ability of those who are disabled. We have been able to look, knowing that we are not being rude, but just curious. This book is a great way to learn about those who are deaf and Cece Bell has chosen to present her story as a graphic novel to guarentee empathetic understanding.
See the video below to hear from the author herself talk about her childhood experiences and her book.