Written by Cecelia Bell, a renowned children’s book author, El Deafo is a moving memoir of Bell’s childhood. In particular, she recounts the genesis of her deafness, her social experiences, and schooling. Cecelia Bell, who is also a children’s book illustrator, gives a humorous twist to a touching story about her own struggles as child who suddenly becomes deaf. With Cece Bell, her teachers Dorn, Mrs. Lufton, Mrs. Ikelburry, and Mrs. Sinklemann as some of the main characters, Cece Bell uses graphic illustrations to bring out raw motions in her novel. She seamlessly weaves a thread between the characters and scenes to highlight other themes such as love and true friendships. Bell’s memoir allows readers to peek into her life as a child battling deafness while also bringing her secret persona, “El Deafo”, along for the all-round journey. El Deafo is a graphic novel that pays homage to the triumph of human spirit, love, family ties, and true friendship.
The novel begins with a young Cece enjoying her life as a four-year old child. Full of life, Cece goes about the daily routine of any normal kid. She enjoys singing, mostly to herself. But most importantly, she thrives on the love of her siblings and her mother. However, her life takes a sudden turn when she suffers a bout of meningitis. While she recovers from the disease, Cece loses her hearing. With her hearing gone, Cece initially struggles to fit in even within her home. She becomes reclusive and scared of interacting with other people including members of her immediate family. But she develops a strong relationship with her mother which shapes her perception of her deafness. Her mother plays an instrumental role in Cece’s decision to embrace her hearing aid: a Phonic Ear. The device is clunky and cumbersome as it comes with wires, a box to strap on the chest, receiver for Cece, and Mrs. Lufton’s transmitter and microphone. This allows Cece to listen to her teacher’s conversations which endears her to her classmates especially when they are goofing around and the teacher is coming to class. Her warnings always come in handy. When the family moves to a new town, Cece has to change school and begin the process of making new friends all over again. She adopts a superhero persona, El Deafo, and becomes adept at reading sign language and lips (Bell, 2014). Such transformation allows her to find true friends.
As a result of her deafness, Cece found it difficult to interact with classmates and family members. Initially, she became reclusive and scared. Her mother became a central figure in life. Cece became overly attached to her mother who she followed everywhere. Even with the hearing aid, Cece initially found it difficult to understand words. Her misinterpretation of words, though sometimes hilarious, put her in awkward situations which hampered her ability to socialize with others. However, she finally managed to understand and embrace condition which improved her social circle. In the end, Cece found true friends and even introduced them to her secret El Deafo persona. Despite losing her hearing, Cece had exceptional ability to read lips, sign language, and emotions without any formal training.
The teachers, especially Mrs. Lufton, played vital role in helping Cece overcome her deafness. She actively and openly embraced the rather cumbersome technology, Phonic Ear, to facilitate Cece’s integration into the classroom setting. Mrs. Lufton used assistive listening technique to help Cece overcome her deafness. The device used allowed for auditory or oral learning through hearing and speaking. Cece’s mother also played an important role in helping Cece overcome her disability. She supported Cece during her transitioning into using the hearing aid. She became Cece’s pillar of strength when she lost her hearing after suffering from meningitis.
Cecelia Bell’s memoir equipped with practical knowledge on how to help leaners overcome deafness using technology without necessarily disrupting the mainstream learning setting. With the help of hearing devices, Cece’s teacher was able to integrate her into the classroom and provided her with a platform to adapt. While it proved challenging in the early stages, Cece thrived in her new environment and learned new skills such as reading lips, emotions and sign language. As an aspiring professional, the novel underscored the need for integrating students with learning disabilities into the mainstream learning environment without making too many special adjustments to the classroom setting. The social and academic benefits of such an approach are well-established in literature (Rivera & Antia, 2016). The technology-aided inclusive approach used by the teacher fostered Cece’s acceptance by other learners.
Cecelia Bell’s El Deafo is a captivating memoir rich in vital lessons on coping with disabilities especially for young learners. Illustrated with a humorous tone, the novel takes readers through the author’s journey as a kid, loss of hearing due to meningitis, and the subsequent transitioning into living with disability. The portrayal of Cece’s secret persona, the titular character of the novel, is accentuated with hilarious scenes especially when she overhears her teacher, Mrs. Lufton, while in the washroom. It is a feel-good novel that chronicles the triumphs of a young girl over deafness and the challenges that come with it. I would highly recommend it to others.
Bell, C. (2014). El Deafo. New York City, NY: Harry N. Abrams.
Rivera, M. C. & Antia, S. D. (2016). Inclusive education for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Oxford University Press: Journals.