El Deafo traces the life of author and illustrator Cece Bell during her elementary school years in her book El Deafo. Cece who turns deaf at the age of four, due to meningitis is provided with a ‘phonics ear’device and microphone. She has to wear the device and her hearing aids while her teacher has the microphone. Cece is the only deaf child at school. The other children are initially wary of her, not understanding how to converse with her. But Cece not one to give up.
Soon she realises her ‘phonic ear’ helps her hear everything her teacher says or does, even outside the class. Cece warns her classmates about their teacher approaching or what she felt about their class. The children in her class warm up to her and start relying on her super hearing skills. Her disability becomes her super power.
Listen to Bell talk about her book El Deafo
Cece uses the keen-eyed rabbit to represent all the characters in the book. She traces the challenges that a deaf child can have socially and while learning. She never gives up and soon by using her ‘powers’ she helps her friends and in the process herself. Moping is just not for El Deafo!
The book is in graphic comic format. Drawn in her characteristic line drawing with bright colours style, Cece is able to capture the feelings and thoughts of a younger Cece aged 4 till age 10.
In an interview with The Guardian in April 2015, Cece was asked:
It’s quite unusual to read a book about children with hearing difficulties, is that why you wrote el Deafo?
That is partly the reason. I always wished that there was a “manual” that hearing people could refer to, that could help them understand and communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people better. That desire for a manual was sort of the springboard for the whole book… and it turned out that a lot of deaf kids are benefiting from seeing themselves in a book, and from having others read about someone like them.
To get a better understanding of how children with different abilities cope, one must scout for stories about them. El Deafo , a Newbery Honour book definitely is a good place to start.