Friday, February 20, 2015

El Deafo

A 2015 Newbery Honor Book, El Deafo is a graphic memoir about growing up deaf. The author/illustrator Cece Bell was four years old when she contracted meningitis and lost her hearing, and this book chronicles how she dealt with her condition in terms of her family, friends, and her schooling. I thought it was a very informative and entertaining narrative, one that contained much insight about the experiences of some deaf folks.
What I most appreciated from this book is the level of detail regarding diagnosis, treatment, and managing this situation from the viewpoint of someone who went through these events. Bell places the reader squarely in the position of witnessing the confusion and disorientation that went along with the slow realization of hearing loss as well as the awkward, fitful steps toward treatment. She also lets us in to see the emotional roller coaster she went through, and how the people around her reacted. Some tried to overcompensate with volume or kid gloves; some tried to simply avoid her, but what she most valued (most of the time) was just being treated like a regular child. Sometimes, though, she found herself daydreaming about herself as a superhero who could transcend everything, the titular El Deafo.
Probably what I liked most about this book was that the author does not come off as some angelic protagonist but as a flawed and likable human being. She has static with her friends and family. Sometimes she throws tantrums or acts childish. Sometimes she takes advantage of situations, like abusing her ability to hear her teacher when she is outside of the classroom (even when she is in *gasp* the bathroom). She ends up using this particular ability to make friends with the students who want to horse around when the teacher is away. Cece is finding her way here, and she does not always make the wisest choices, nor do the circumstances always fall in her favor. I do have to say that much of the time however, she is pretty hilarious.
Cece Bell is an accomplished illustrator who has created a number of picture books, including the Sock Monkey series, the 2013 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book Rabbit and Robot, and Itty Bitty. I felt that her artwork is very colorful and clear in communicating emotions and feelings. And even though the characters are all depicted as rabbits, the story feels very human and real. I was always aware of how her characters felt, and these broad gestures played well in both comic and dramatic effects. She speaks more about her work on El Deafo in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about El Deafo have been full of praise. School Library Journal's Elizabeth Bird extolled its virtues thus: "Engaging and beautifully drawn, to say nothing of its strength and out-and-out facts, El Deafo is going to help set the standard for what a memoir for kids should be." In a starred review Kirkus Reviews wrote, "Her whimsical color illustrations (all the human characters have rabbit ears and faces), clear explanations and Cece’s often funny adventures help make the memoir accessible and entertaining." In another starred review Publishers Weekly summed the book up as "a standout autobiography."

El Deafo was published by Amulet Books. They have lots of information about the book here.

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