By Heather A.
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 hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in 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.
This blog doesn’t normally write reviews of middle grade novels, but I feel strongly that this semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a deaf bunny is for all ages. It teaches compassion, hope, how to have a sense of humor, and so much more. It was as much a learning experience for me as I hope with other readers. I don’t know much about the deaf community, but I loved reading this perspective. Bell’s humor above all else, was the driving force of this novel. Not to say the book didn’t have other emotions, but I never felt that the author was wallowing in sadness or inconsolable in her isolation about being deaf. What I mean by that is simply, her outlook on life did not diminish. Being deaf was not a barrier for success.
The art style matched the tone of the writing–since it was both written and illustrated by Cece Bell, it’s not a surprise. I liked how she made the characters into bunnies instead of humans. (I suspect it has something to do with reaching the younger audience.) Young Cece had a wonderful imagination and it was so nice to see it brought to life. The “super power” she had was super hearing thanks to her hearing device. This ultimately made her a hero among her classmates and someone who was able to contribute to the community of 5th graders.
It wasn’t always easy for Cece. The lows when she was making friends were very heart-wrenching. Most of the time Cece would have to interact with people who were talking to her based on stereotypes about deaf people, talking loudly or slowly, covering their mouth so she couldn’t see their lips, or other difficult interactions. How do you tell someone that they are not helping you, but only making it worse? By having these scenes, it pushes the reader to understand what they can do better when they speak with a deaf person. By the end, the message is so hopeful. We only see Cece until she’s in 5th grade, but I got the sense that she was able to navigate other spaces in much the same way as her younger self.
I am so happy I read this book. It was an impulse purchase from B&N, I started reading in the children’s section and couldn’t put it down. The novel is fun and engaging, never condescending, and so smart. Readers can come away with a better sense of how they fit in the world and understand that not all disabilities are disadvantages. Highly recommend to all readers at all ages.