Book Review | El Deafo by Cece Bell

I loved reading El Deafo to my daughter. With El Deafo, Cece Bell proves she can broaden and deepen her reader’s lives with a fun and beautifully-told story. Bell makes the experience of being deaf and separated from others, a handicap shared by many, accessible to children and, at least in my case, adults. The result is moving, a powerfully-told story that merits reading by kids young and old.

In the year before she starts kindergarten, Cece becomes ill with a dangerous sickness that hospitalizes her and damages her hearing. Nearly deaf, her parents outfit her with a device to help her hear her teachers. Clunky and awkward, the hearing device makes Cece feel self-conscious and different. However, as she soon learns, it also grants her secret powers to know what her teacher is doing even when she leaves the classroom. With this secret power, Cece invents an alter ego: El Deafo!

The book is not new in our home but has been floating around our 8-year old’s room for a while. After watching her read El Deafo for the 9th or 10th time (no exaggeration), I knew there was something up. When my 5-year old asked me to read it to her, we spent a few nights one week reading before bedtime, and she loved it, too.

Bell fills El Deafo with anecdotes and experiences that show well what it’s like to be a child growing up with a sense that so many of us take for granted. Whether it is watching the television, trying to understand her teachers’ instructions, or making friends, normal activities take on a new light when seen through Cece’s eyes as she navigates the world in which she lives. Her characters are drawn as rabbits, and the effect is delightful, adding to the child-like innocence that story-Cece shares as she discovers her world and learns how to turn her handicap into a gift.

I loved El Deafo and was genuinely touched as I read it with our 5-year old. I recommend it to parents of kids from 5 to 12, though I think even older children would enjoy the story and gain from Cece’s experiences.

Apropos: El Deafo won the 2015 Newberry Honor and, fun fact, Cece Bell is married to Tom Angleberger, who writes the Origami Yoda books, another favorite in our home.

El Deafo Book Cover El Deafo
Cece Bell
Children's Book
Harry N. Abrams
September 2, 2014

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.