This partial autobiography/memoir in graphic novel format won a much-deserved John Newbery Award Honor Book designation, given "to the author[s] of the most distinguished contribution[s] to American literature for children."
CeCe Bell suffered a severe hearing loss as a result of meningitis at age four. While she could wear a less conspicuous hearing aid at home, she needed to use a "phonic ear" at school, a rather bulky personal sound amplification system, to best hear the teacher.
Bell, who also did the illustrations (colored by David Lasky), gives her characters rabbit ears and faces, and they remind me of the anthropomorphic characters in Marc Brown's Arthur series - which, interestingly, came out about the time this book begins, in the late 1970s, when Bell is age four. The book ends when Bell is in the fifth grade.
The rabbit ears, of course, highlight the issue of hearing. Empty speech bubbles (when Bell can't hear) and random collections of letters (when she can hear but not understand) emphasize some of the issues she had. The Phonic Ear and her hearing aid solve some of these, but not when they are broken or have dead batteries. CeCe learns to lip read at in a kindergarten class with other hearing-impaired children. The summer following, though, her family moves to a smaller town, and CeCe is in a regular classroom for first grade on.
CeCe struggles to find a best friend who will accept her as she is and not make a big deal of her deafness. She has her first crush. She imagines a superhero alter-ego she christens "El Deafo" to help her through the tough times. All in all, though, this memoir is positive, because CeCe remains upbeat.
An author's note at the end of the book explains that deafness has many causes and degrees - and that deaf people choose different ways to deal with it, ranging from trying to fit in, as CeCe does, with hearing aids and lip reading, to embracing the Deaf community or culture, in which sign language (which CeCe resists learning as a youngster) is the preferred means of communication. I loved her conclusion:
I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.Despite the picture-book like illustrations, at 233 pages, this book is probably most appropriate for third through sixth graders.
© Amanda Pape - 2015
[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]