Thursday, 2 April 2015

El Deafo

Author: Cece Bell
Genre: Children's, Graphic Novel, Autobiography
Type: Paperback
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 233
Publisher: Amulet Books
First Published: 2014
First Line: "I was a regular little kid."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece's class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends. 

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school--in the the teacher's the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different... and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.

My Review:  I brought this book home from the library for three reasons.  First, I need to read more children's books in order to properly advise young readers at the library where I work.  Second, I wanted to read a graphic novel.  Yup, I never have.  I live under a rock.  And lastly, it was about deafness and with my background as a Sign Language Interpreter I was interested to see how deafness was portrayed in a children's book.

I sat down yesterday afternoon and proceeded to read three-quarters of the book in one sitting (and finished the rest a few hours later).  Needless to say I found this book to be a very easy and delightful read.   The book is based on the author's childhood growing up deaf and she touches a lot on the feelings of growing up deaf in a hearing world (living in the 'bubble of loneliness', being referred to as 'my deaf friend' instead of just 'my friend') and situations that she found frustrating (turning out lights at sleepovers while the other girls continued to chat, turning away when she's trying to lip read, watching TV before Closed Captioning ...).  There's a lot of information given to the reader but it in no way has a 'preachy' feel to it.  Far from it, in fact.  Instead the reader gets a very heartfelt look at how Cece dealt being the only deaf child on her street and in her school.  She shows the reader her transformation from viewing her deafness and being different as a disability to seeing her differences in a much more positive light.

Along her journey Cece meets a whole range of characters - from supportive and unsupportive teachers and loving parents, to extremely pushy friends and friends who overcompensate for her deafness.  It's a whole cast of colourful characters that children can relate to.  This book is written with humour and a lot of heart which helps the reader get inside Cece's head as she navigates through the hearing world as a deaf child.  But she also touches on many universal issues that kids face - being the new kid at school, learning to fit in, dealing with bullies and first crushes which I think makes it relatable to hearing children too.

I love the author's note at the end of the book that goes into a little more detail about what it means to be deaf.  It's a different experience for different deaf people.  People become deaf for different reasons (genetic, illness, physical trauma ...) and they live with their deafness very differently.  

Some consider themselves hard-of-hearing, some choose to wear hearing aids, cochlear implants and may communicate verbally and/or lip read.  There is another large group of the deaf who consider themselves culturally Deaf (yes, that's a big D) where they are heavily immersed in Deaf culture and are proud to be Deaf.  They don't see their deafness as a disability, just one {positive} way that they are different (this is sometimes hard for hearing people to understand).  Many of these people proudly use American Sign Language (which, I will add, is a complete and complex language, distinct from English.  It is not a physical way to communicate English).  As the author states, 'there are lots of different ways to be deaf' and I love that she brought that message to her readers.

I loved this book.  It was easy to read, Cece was a unique character that took readers on a roller coaster of emotions and by using her vivid imagination turned her deafness into a 'superpower'.  The graphic novel format, with it's unique 'bunny-like' characters will engage readers, especially reluctant young readers to pick up a book.  My hope is that it will inspire compassion for being the new kid and a better understanding of the deaf.  For this reason I'd recommend it for readers age 7 to adult.

Favourite Quote'Our differences are our superpowers'

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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