El Deafo

June 17, 2018

About the Author

marla frazee

Cecelia Caroline Bell, more likely known as Cece Bell is a famous author and illustrator. She went to school at the College of Williams and Mary, majoring in art. Bell continued her education earning a degree in illustration. She met her husband in college, who is also a writer, Tom Angleberger. Bell has been an author and illustrator for 15 years. Her books include the Newbery Honor and Eisner-winning graphic novel El Deafo, the Geisel Honor-winning Rabbit & RobotI Yam a DonkeyBee-WiggedItty Bitty, and the Sock Monkey series. She has also created books with her husband – Crankee Doodle and the Inspector Flytrap series.

El Deafo is her first graphic novel and her first book that discusses her experience of deafness. With the stigmatism around her disability, Bell wanted to be known as an author first before people started identifying her as “the deaf author.” She makes in-school visits to discuss her books. She also does Skype visits with an eager audience (how cool!).

For more information visit her WordPress – https://cecebell.wordpress.com/bio/

About the Book

el deafo

A heart-warming, funny, emotional, yet real story, El Deafo depicts the journey as a young four year old grows to learn how to deal with the experience of deafness. Based off the author/illustrators life, the graphic novel goes through several years of Cece Bell’s life, thoughts, and emotions as she often feels lonely through her journey of being deaf. With a loving and supporting family, Bell searches for more – true friendship. Many details within the book are true from the memory of the author, although they may not appear in the exact order. The novel describes friendships, interactions, and constant thoughts inside her own head.



Once Cece’s family realizes she is deaf after contracting meningitis, her life is forever changed. Although Cece is not completely deaf, she has a hard time understanding what people are saying. She has to wear Phonic Ears that amplify the sounds around her.

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Her first experience in school is at a deaf school. Here she learns how to read lips. This is another tool she can use to successful understand people, but it takes a lot of practice to be a good lip reader. At school, she is surrounded by people who look like her with cords coming out of their ears and the Phonic Ear strapped to there chest. el deafo 2She felt like these people really understood her because they were also deaf. As summer comes around, her family moves and she has to get used to a new neighborhood, new kids, and a whole new school.

Throughout the chapters Cece expresses her feeling of isolation and loneliness. As if being a girl isn’t hard enough, imagine being a young girl with cords constantly sticking out of your ears and a bulky machine on your chest. This makes finding real friends even harder. Often, her own insecurities become her biggest battles. Cece has to face what she thinks is constant staring, unnecessary questioning, and mistreatment from other kids. It seems that Cece falls into forced friends because she was tired of being alone. At least in these friendships she gets to do things, like join Girl Scouts and have sleepovers. But once realizing that certain friendships had more cons than pros, Cece does not know how to end these friendships aside from avoiding them.

It isn’t until Cece figures out how to hone in her hidden powers does she feel normal, and even cool. Once dreading the massive Phonic Ear, Cece realizes the true power she has with it. She transforms into El Deafo, her outgoing, super cool, alter ego. Her phonic ear is seen as cool, once the other students realize Cece can hear the teacher where ever she goes inside the school building (even in the bathroom).

The students have a quiet math time where the teacher leaves the room and the students unattended. They are supposed to be working, but usually goof off. Once they find out that Cece can hear the teacher where ever she is, they have her become the lookout. Cece is given major props while she stands guard and nobody gets in trouble that day.


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Cece learns what her deafness means to her and once she accepts herself, it seems like other people begin to accept her as well. Cece makes good and bad friends. She even has a one-sided crush on a neighbor boy. El Deafo helps to encourage her to speak up and as Cece matures, she realizes that she is going to have to make the best out of her situation.

Teacher’s Tip

The book is very well planned out and that is present by the descriptions in each chapter. The descriptions, precise language, and dialogue (Tunnell et all, 2016) allow  for the reader to relate to raw emotions that the character was facing.

Since El Deafo is a graphic novel, dialogue is present throughout the entire text. Some dialogue is based off of real conversations Cece had experienced throughout her childhood. Speech bubbles aid in the presentations of conversations that Cece had and even in the way which she heard things. When speech bubbles were blank, that is because Cece could not hear anything. The speech bubbles really helped to express her thoughts as well. Through her thoughts is usually where we are able to see how Cece really felt.

When creating lessons around El Deafo, this book would be great for literacy, language, and writing. It can be used as a book study where students have to analyze specific part of the text and write about it. They could focus on the plot, themes, and overall message in the book. Students will also be able to find ways to relate to the character and write about them.

This book could be used from grades third through fifth. For third grade, the book could be used as a genre study. The way the graphic novel is written is very clear and tells a story successfully.

In fourth and fifth grade, the book can be used as a mentor text to focus more on the personal narrative and character development. Students could track the different emotions Cece faces and how she learns how to deal with them.

For all grades it is really important to understand the emotions that Cece is facing. Everyone wants to have friends and feel accepted, which is an important message for all students to comprehend.

This book is great at showing the differences and uniqueness of other people. It also expands students thinking about what they might assume being deaf is like. El Deafo relates all people together since everyone wants a friend and wants to be accepted. It also encourages hope. Cece not only looks different but her body is actually different. And she constantly has cords sticking out of her ears. Although she feels lonely at times, she is able to make friends and learn to accept her differences. She also learns that it does not matter what other people think about her.

A caution in the book is one part the book says “Hell”. There also is a couple images of parents smoking and drinking wine. It is important to note that this is not the experience of all deaf people nor is this the only way people can be deaf.


What information does the author assume the reader knows?

I feel that the author assumes that the reader knows about the different types of deafness. Although there is a page at the end of the book that addresses this, I feel like this page would of have been much more useful at the beginning of the book. While I was reading I was a little confused as to why Cece could hear but could not necessarily understand. Addressing deafness at the beginning of the book would have helped to clarify confusions like this. Also the technology used is very outdated and it seemed almost unreal that people had to wear the massive Phonic Ear.

How are family relationships depicted?

Chapter01.07.05.2013Family relationships are depicted as very supportive. Cece’s family was supportive and understanding along her journey. I wonder what conversations Cece’s family had after she became deaf. Also, I would have like to have seen what Cece’s parents told her when she was feeling lonely or isolated. Other families in the neighborhood were also supportive. They often set up play dates and had each other over at their houses for sleepovers. You can also tell this was an earlier time because everyone seemed to have both a mother and father. This was perhaps a time when divorces were frowned upon.

How are schools depicted?

Schools seemed normal. Cece first went to a deaf school and then she went to a regular elementary when her family moved. I would image Cece was in school before any laws were made for students with disabilities, so what conversations did the parents have to have with the school so Cece was in an inclusive classroom? Perhaps Cece was not a part of these conversations, so she could not incorporate them into the story. The teachers were also represented in a way that made me think they did not mind using the Phonic Ear for Cece.


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