Sunday 27 December 2015

El Deafo

I came across El Deafo when it was an 2015 honour book for the Newberry Medal. I read the extraordinary Brown Girl Dreaming (see my review) at the start of the year, and bought El Deafo at the same time. This week I got to read it. I thought it would be the perfect book to read while sitting around on a train for a day, and it was. 

I don't read all that many graphic novels, it's a category that doesn't always appeal to me, but I've learnt to read and love verse novels, so anything is possible. 

El Deafo, is not just a graphc novel, it's a graphic memoir, and for some reason I have a bit more success with them than graphic novels alone. I'm particularly thinking of French Milk (see my review) I suppose. El Deafo tells us the story of Cece Bell's childhood, which changes for ever when she contracts meningitis aged 4 and is left profoundly deaf, a change which isn't immediately recognised by Cece, her parents or her doctors. A few weeks later the diagnosis is made. Not too many kids books have lumbar punctures.

Young Cece is anxious about her difference, self-conscious and worried that people are always staring at her because of her hearing aids- although no-one ever seems to. Cece, like every kid, wants a best friend. Kids (and adults) are always curious about any difference, but usually kids will just get on with things once their curiosity is answered.

Cece Bell is younger than me, and American, but I was surprised how many songs and TV shows we shared as kids. There are 70s references littered throughout El Deafo, very familiar to me of course, but not necessarily to modern kids. Monty Python. Elton John and Kiki Dee's Don't Go Breaking My Heart. The Monkees. The Partridge Family. I was most surprised to see reference a teacher singing "I've got a girl called Boney Maloney." I thought Bony Moronie was a Hush original. Sad to learn that it wasn't.

I was intrigued by the mention of Color by David Lasky. Because of my gross unfamiliarity with the graphic novel world I was not aware of the occupation of colorist (which rightly should be colourist of course). But it's a thing. Here's an interview with professional colorist Ian Hannin. I guess I find it odd that people can draw well enough to create a graphic novel and then need someone else to bring it to life in colour. 

Fascinating, but sad, to see that in this fabulous Guardian article that adult Cece still had those some childhood insecurities, but that they really led to the creation of El Deafo- first as a blog, then as a book. And she ran out of time to colour the book and so used a colourist! I am seeing references to Raina Telgemeier wherever I go today, so I think I know what my next graphic novel will be. 

Diversity on the Shelf 2015


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I haven't gotten around to this book yet. Thank you for the reminder.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds right up my alley so I just put it on hold at the library. Thanks for the review!

Mary Wild said...

El Deafo is a wonderful book! We all need stories, especially during childhood. They help us reflect on ourselves, to better understand reality, and to imagine countless futures. Storytelling is a powerful tool for creating a constructive narrative for everybody. Books, both with an auditory/verbal approach and Deaf culture focused, are a fun, informative and inspirational way that provides a positive outlook for children with hearing loss. See a list of newest book titles here: