Eyes on This Book: “El Deafo,” written and illustrated by CeCe Bell, is a funny and moving graphic novel first published in 2014 by Amulet Books. El Deafo is a 2015 Newbery Medal Honor book, an Eisner winner, and also counts itself among the New York Times most notable children’s books for middle grades in 2014. Find out more about El Deafo’s accolades here: https://www.juniorlibraryguild.com/book/landing/detailedview?itemcode=9781419710209J
Book Type: autobiographical graphic novel
Overview of the Author & Illustrator: Cece Bell was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1970. She became deaf at the age of 4 years old and used this experience to form the basis of her book, El Deafo. Bell has degrees in art, illustration, and design and became an author and illustrator after spending much time as a freelance illustrator and designer. She lives in Virginia with her husband, Tom.
“And being different? That turned out to the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.” ― Cece Bell, El Deafo
Summary: Chains is an autobiographical graphic novel of Cece Bell’s life in which she is represented by a rabbit who becomes deaf at age 4 and subsequently gives herself the superhero name, El Deafo. This book follows Cece through her trials and triumphs as she learns to deal with her deafness/relationships at home, at school, among friends, and with her crush.
More About This Text: Cece, the main character in the book , is a spunky, creative dreamer in terms of personality type. Becoming deaf at a young age, she is someone who faces tremendous odds and has to overcome a life difficulty (Tunnell, Jacobs, Young, & Bryan, 2016). She spends lots of time imagining scenarios and conversations with friends and family members and even designs El Deafo- her very own superhero alter ego! Cece Bell most likely decided to write this graphic novel about herself and her own experiences to shed light on the experiences of children who experience hearing difficulties. Growing up she did not have books to read with characters that represented children in her similar situation, so she wanted to create a resource for children and adults, alike. She may have also wanted to spread awareness about what it might be like for a child who has any sort of difference about them!
Freedman argues that the goal of a good biography should be to “breathe life and meaning into people and events” (as cited in Tunnell, Jacobs, Young, & Bryan, 2016, p.168. Bell certainly does achieve this goal through the writing of this autobiography and incorporation of interesting writing strategies. Choosing the mode of a graphic novel, Bell is able to portray the thoughts, feelings, and actions of each character through speech balloons and comic strips! The author also employs another hallmark of effective biography composition: showing the readers the blemishes as well as the strong points of the characters’ lives (Tunnell, Jacobs, Young, & Bryan, 2016). In the story, Cece’s good qualities were highlighted, but some missteps, misspeaking, and interesting behavior were also provided to the reader, enhancing authenticity and the relatability of the book. Bell is able to bring her characters to life through impeccably drawn illustrations, the use of humor, and the creative use of speech bubbles.
Visual Elements: Sharing a story like El Deafo through the lens of a graphic novel serves many purposes. First of all, graphic novels are often more enjoyable and more approachable for students who are intimidated by longer chapter books. They are also full of lots of supporting detail and pictures using cartoon art and unique artistry, which can assist with comprehension, especially for struggling readers.
The fact that Bell chose a rabbit to represent her as a child is wonderful and witty given that rabbits have large ears and Cece struggled with hearing!
The fabulous illustrations in this text support increasing visual literacy as the illustrations themselves literally carry the story from page to page! To begin, the use of simple shapes and lines make each picture easy to follow and comprehend without overwhelming the reader as they scan down each page. Bell uses lines to direct readers’ attention to specific aspects of a character’s conversation (Tunnell, Jacobs, Bryan, & Young). Additionally, the use of color is expertly done with the use of mostly warm color in muted tones establish the calm and heartwarming tone of the story line. Lastly, several details (often humorous) are subtly included on several pages, conveying details and asides that are not directly stated in the text.
- Bell, C. (2014). El deafo. New York, NY: Amulet.
- Bell, C. (2019, May 22). Bio. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://cecebell.wordpress.com/bio/
- Tunnell, M. O., Jacobs, J. S., Young, T. A., & Bryan, G. (2016). Children’s literature, briefly (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.