El Deafo by Cece Bell (colored by David Lasky) is a graphic novel that won the Newbery Award in 2015 for its great story. I feel like it’s well deserving for both the story and the illustration, as its graphic nature provides a unique format to tell of the author’s experiences growing up deaf in the 1970s. Through her elementary years, Cece struggles with the discomfort of being different, and it is only as she comes to terms with it herself that she lets herself finally develop friendships.
The story is illustrated with Cece and other characters as rabbits: all the better, my 10-year-old daughter explained to me, to see her ears. It is Cece’s stress about her obvious hearing aids that drives this coming-of-age story. Although Cece was born hearing, an ear infection took away most of her hearing as a preschooler. So, entering school with a giant hearing aid machine stuck to her chest leaves her feeling completely out of place in her school environment.
Secretly, though, with the tool of her headphones and the hearing aid, she feels like a powerful superhero because she is able to hear again. This alter-ego she calls “El Deafo.” Toward the end, Cece finally feels comfortable letting her peers see how the hearing aids help her, and her friendships are more sincere because now she is a whole person, not just herself but to those around her too.
The graphic nature of this story is perfect, showcasing Cece’s superhero self, as well as illustrating the discomfort she felt for so much of her childhood. Cece’s story provides a positive reminder that we are all different and that’s okay. I recommend it to middle-grade readers.
Received the Will Eisner Award in 2015, for best graphic novel publication for kids . Newbery Honor book 2015.