At first glance, El Deafo by Cece Bell is a cute graphic novel about rabbits. The twist comes when the main character, Cece, loses her hearing after contracting spinal meningitis at a young age. The story tracks her life growing up with a severe hearing impediment and having to wear a Phonic Ear as she started school, something that made it harder to fit in and make friends.
When I finished the book, I felt it was “good,” but not award worthy. I would have said the author did a nice job taking the reader through Cece’s struggles and emotions. My opinion started to change as I was able to process what I had read. I began to realize that the book had taken me on a journey, a chance walk in the main character’s shoes (even though rabbits don’t wear shoes). The story’s depth became apparent and I recognized the impact Cece had left on me.
I flipped through the pages again and stopped on key scenes throughout the book so could take note of how I felt reading those passages again. I was aware of the pain I felt as Cece’s struggled with understanding her hearing loss. I felt a deep sadness when she thought she had lost her best friend forever (having kids of my own made this hit home as I have watched them try to navigate peer relationships on their own). I felt her frustration when she felt like she was being forced to learn sign language. The story did such an incredible job of opening a window into this little girl’s life that I felt as if I was wearing the Phonic Ear along along with Cece.
El Deafo is a Newberry Honor Book and you will understand why after you read it. It is tender, funny, and most of all, inspiring. I would recommend this book for mature 3rd graders and older. It will make an impact.