• Happy birthday Alice Bach (Moses’ Ark: Stories From the Bible), Fulvio Testa (Aesop’s Fables), Jerdine Nolen (Thunder Rose), and Graeme Base (Animalia).
  • It’s the birth date of Barbara Cooney (1917-2000), Ox-Cart Man, Miss Rumphius; Ida Chittum (1918-2002), The Cat’s Pajamas; and Douglas Hill (1935-2007), The Dragon Charmer.
  • The Italian painter and architect Raphael (1483-1520) was born on this day. Read Raphael by Mike Venezia and Raphael by Juliet Mofford.
  • In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games opened in Athens. Read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, by Rick Riordan.
  • It’s National Tartan Day, honoring Americans of Scottish descent. Read books from the Tartan Magic series by Jane Yolan.

From March 13 through April 15, we celebrate Deaf History Month. Until last year, I had difficulty finding a book that I could recommend for this period of time. But Cece Bell’s El Deafo, one of the best books of 2014, won me over from the first time I picked it up. The funny, smart, and touching graphic novel cuts to the heart of the deaf experience for one young girl, who lost her hearing at the age of four because of meningitis.

The narrative of El Deafo follows the life story of Cece as she starts to work with a hearing aid and advances to a Phonic Ear, a bulky hearing add strapped to her chest. But although El Deafo contains enough information so that any reader can understand the hearing devices and hearing problems faced by the engaging protagonist, it mainly presents the school saga of a young girl trying to make and keep friends and eventually falling in love with a boy in the neighborhood. The vividness of these universal childhood situations grounds the story, while the unique experiences that Cece encounters adds emotion and drama.

Just like Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, El Deafo uses the graphic novel form to explore the joys, triumphs, and sorrows of childhood. And since graphic novels use speech bubbles to provide dialogue, El Deafo allows readers to see what Cece can hear – and what she can’t. In the end Cece learns that her disability can be turned into her greatest strength. With her Phonic Ear she can listen in on everything her teacher is doing, including going to the bathroom. Hence she has knowledge that can be put to use by the students in her class. In the end Cece not only becomes a true superhero to her classmates, she also gains a lot of fans from readers of the book who have grown to love her.

Clearly we are in a Golden Age of Graphic Novels for children. The form has been attracting some of the best talent in the children’s book world, as well as bringing in those who might not have had a chance to be published ten years ago. This Newbery Honor Book demonstrates just how brilliant a Graphic Novel memoir can be. Thank you Cece Bell; you are my superhero for creating such a heartwarming and accessible book for young readers.

Here’s a page from El Deafo:

El Deafo image


Originally posted April 6, 2015. Updated for .

Tags: Autobiography, Deafness, Newbery, Special Needs
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for El Deafo


  1. G. Perry says:

    As a person who had serious adenoid and tonsil problems as a child (3 operations) I truely appreciate this book.

    My hearing was damaged but I didn’t lose it.

    It makes my soul ache just thinking about a child that can’t hear, and trust me, I get this.

    My library doesn’t have this, but I’ll got to work on them.

    I’ll read it and use it in every way possible to help.

    Count on it.

  2. Julia Heaney says:

    I’m a school librarian and I find your site most helpful! We do a lot about deafness and other disabilities when the Grade 3s have a Helen Keller theme in the third term. I have amassed some lovely books on deafness, one really worth mentioning is “Moonbird” by Jane Ray – beautifully illustrated picture book about a prince who can’t hear and is helped to communicate with his hands.

  3. Debbie W. says:

    I am so happy that you have noted this book! I had a student that wore the same hearing device, and in each class, the teacher wore the counterpart. Though other students were quite kind, we are all curious. And now having this knowledge and experience through literature, we can empathize. I truly believe rudeness and bullying stem from a lack of knowledge. I look forward to reading this book, exploring a graphic novel (Cool!), and sharing it with others.

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