In my first blog article, I wrote about the growing importance of graphic novels in the classroom. But, as it turns out, they can do so much more than simply teach history or English. They can also educate and help young children build self-confidence. A wonderful example of this is the graphic novel memoir, “El Deafo,” written and illustrated by Cece Bell. It is a charming, autobiographical story telling how she came to terms with living with her own deafness, at such a young age. What makes it even more interesting is her characterization choice, as she chose to draw all her characters in this story as rabbits. And, if anybody knows anything about rabbits, it is that they have excellent hearing. The other thing about rabbits is not pertinent here. This is a G rated blog.
The book illustrates Cece’s story, as she has to use a phonic ear hearing aid during the most impressionable period in many people’s lives, elementary school. This phonic ear assembly is basically an enormous backpack with four straps that you wear around your chest. It also has two wires extending from both sides with premade ear molds that serve as the user’s hearing aids. Additionally, a microphone is given to, and worn by the speaker just like a necklace.
However, like any child that age, she is initially embarrassed at having to wear this device as she sees how unlike she is from the other children. She is often treated differently by her peers, as they either speak to her to slowly or too loudly, or sometimes they do both. Often this causes her to move into “bubble of loneliness”. However, what is the truly heartbreaking is that in her loneliness she lets other children treat her badly, as she desperate for friendship. However, Cece discovers that with her phonic ear, not only can she hear everything clearly, but also she can listen to her teacher as she moves about the school, even as she uses the bathroom. It is here that she decides to become the superhero “El Deafo.”
By adopting this alternate persona, we, the readers, get to follow along Cece’s journey while she tries to navigate through the hearing world, especially, at a period when kids can be very cruel to each other. It is a sweet tale of learning how to stick up for yourself, of finding self-confidence, and learning that to be different, or handicapped is never a bad thing. It also teaches children all over, who perhaps have disabilities of their own, and that they are not alone in the world. Apparently, this book’s message is getting out. Not only is there is a waitlist for this book in all of the surrounding libraries, but when I spoke to a Fairfax County educator friend of mine, she told this book never stays on the shelf for very long. It seems that this books message is relating to families everywhere.
For me, personally, it brought back memories of my own childhood. I was born with a congenital short femur in my right leg, and I had to wear a lift on my shoe to balance it out. I was sometimes made fun of by my classmates; and never really understood who my friends were or were not. Thankfully, I had corrective surgery when I turned twelve.
Since then, I have given this book to my daughter who struggles with autism. She has trouble relating to people, and often withdraws into herself. Even though I am her father, and I want what is best for her, I can never give her what all children her age need, which is a sidekick. Maybe this graphic novel will give her something to relate to, and let her know that she too is not as alone as she may think.