Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

To The Rescue

Heroes and heroines are created every single day.  Surely the simplest act of kindness is part of the code of champions, consciously or unconsciously.  Being brave, stepping out of your comfort zone, in little or big ways is a deed worthy of notice; even if you are the only one who knows.

Every time I hear my dog snoring at night, see the array of autumn colors spread across the horizon, taste the first sip of hot chocolate, smell the lilac blooms on the bush given to me by my students or feel the cozy softness of a blanket received from a friend, I am grateful for the full use of my senses.  To have all this and lose one of them at a very early age used to be beyond my comprehension.  In a single day understanding was given to me by Cece Bell when I read her new graphic novel, El Deafo (Amulet Books, color by David Lasky), released September 2, 2014.

I was a regular little kid.  I played with my mom's stuff.
I watched TV with my big brother, Ashley, and my big sister, Sarah.
I rode on the back of my father's bicycle.

With the next twenty-one chapters Cece Bell opens up her life experiences to readers beginning with her hospital stay for meningitis, which robs her of most of her hearing at age four, up through fifth grade.  We realize when she does her world is filled with too much quiet.  The trip to the first audiologist, the tests and molds made for her first hearing aid are shared by her four-year-old self, depicted with clarity and sincerity.  As she enters kindergarten but attends a different school other than her best friend Emma, we learn every step of the way with Cece as she faces the challenges of her deafness.

Before the beginning of first grade her family moves to a new town.  This year Cece will be attending a regular public school.  To assist her hearing, she is wearing a new Phonic Ear.  Her teacher wears a microphone around her neck so Cece does not miss a single word of class instruction.  What Cece does not know until the first day is this device gives her the ability to hear people, Mrs. Lufton, outside of the classroom.

Just like Bruce Wayne uses all that crazy technology to turn himself into Batman on TV...

Even though her hearing feels like super hearing, she is still lonely.  She is still different.  She becomes friends with a classmate who tends to be more bossy than attentive to Cece and her ideas.  In fact when third grade starts, she is relieved Laura has another teacher.

For a while another girl seems to be the kind of friend Cece needs but her way of talking to her is very annoying.  Ginny's friends (and Ginny) can't understand how Cece feels.  It is during one of her low moments watching TV with her brother and sister, a character gives her the idea of becoming El Deafo.  Readers once again see the courage of Cece Bell.

We follow her through fourth and fifth grade ups and downs, inside and outside the classroom. We feel her frustration when required to take a signing class, her excitement meeting a girl across the street, Martha, her giddiness of a first crush on a new neighbor, Mike Miller, her sadness at being thought a cheat, her helplessness with an insensitive physical education teacher, her panic at the loss of the Phonic Ear and her joy when using her super powers and regaining the presence of a treasured friend.   How fortunate for us in reading El Deafo we spend six years with Cece Bell.  We get to read and reread passages deepening our sensitivity toward differences in all of us.

 Readers can easily and quickly identify with Cece Bell in this memoir.  Her blend of dialogue shown in speech bubbles, whether in real time or in her mind's eye especially as El Deafo, with her first person narrative text causes us to feel an array of emotions identical to hers or in response to her situations.  We see the warmth and humor of the adult Bell present throughout this book.  No matter her age, Cece Bell is the real deal.

Here is a sample passage from her first school class in kindergarten.  What I like about this is we not only get to see Cece's observations but her resilience rises to the top.  Even before El Deafo makes an appearance Bell tends to look for the silver lining in any given situation.

But everything is still so new, and so different, for all of us.  Most of the time we are lost, drifting along on our own planets.
But we are together in the same universe, at least.

Each page is composed of a series of panels in varying sizes with a small white border around each, for the most part.  Bell designates the difference in her imagined scenes by using a pale green scalloped edge around each of the clustered elements.  When she is hearing something through the Phonic Ear golden yellow edged in red jagged edges defines these sections.

Larger illustrations are used to draw focus to the most memorable moments, not so good and spectacularly wonderful.  I love the animated facial features and body movements on each bunny person in this book.  Bell is able to convey every nuance of every situation to her readers.

I have so many favorite pictures but the series on pages 137 through 140 when she and Martha are jumping on the Miller's trampoline are particularly heartwarming.  We are privy to the real Cece Bell's and El Deafo's feelings about Mike Miller.  We can't help but smile because every single person can identify on some level with her feelings.  That is what makes not only these visuals but all of them so special.

To me El Deafo written and illustrated by Cece Bell is a gift freely and masterfully given to all readers.  It is a memorable and rare opportunity to gain insight into another person's life.  Any individual who reads this book will find their lives enriched tenfold.

In a series of blog posts listed below, Cece Bell shares her experiences in creating El Deafo.
El Deafo Honors David Lasky, colorist extraordinaire!
Check it out: Sock Monkey tries the Phonic Ear in a photo comic!
El Deafo Extras: Don't judge a book by its rejected covers! Plus Decatur Book Festival Stuff!
El Deafo Extras: The Bell family looked a lot like the Addams Family back in the day!
El Deafo Extras: Childhood drawings from my time in the hospital, and superhero origin stories
El Deafo Extras: Childhood photos through the ages
El Deafo Extras: The George and Barbara Bell Show
El Deafo Extras: Audiology and ephemera from Mom's vault
El Deafo Extras: Speech therapy
El Deafo Extras: From outline to finished product
El Deafo Extras: A quick post!
El Deafo Extras! BIG EVENT!!! The real Martha Ann Claytor Chadwick came to see me today!
El Deafo officially comes out tomorrow!   Yeehaw, book birthday!
It's here! It's finally here! El Deafo arrives via Pony Express...er, UPS!
El Deafo Extras: What did El Deafo first look like?
El Deafo Extras: Mrs. Lufton revealed! (Well, kinda.) Plus MINI BOOK TOUR only a week away! (DC area peeps, I'd love to see you!)

To discover more about Cece Bell and her work you can head over to a chat she had with Erin E. Stead and Philip C. Stead at Number Five Bus Presents... .  She recently was a guest at Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast sharing artwork from this book. Crafting a graphic novel-memoir is the title of an interview at the A. B. Westrick site.  She stops in for a visit at author Kirby Larson's blog, Kirby's Lane: Friend Friday.  In Sneaky Peeks Video #15: Cece Bell discusses El Deafo at the Wild Things! Acts Of Mischief In Children's Literature site we learn even more.  Update:  Here is a recent post at School Library Journal,  SLJ Chats with Cece Bell About her Graphic Novel Memoir 'El Deafo' | Up Close.  Cece Bell was interviewed on NPR Books.  Cece Bell stopped by teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner's Let's Get Busy Podcast.

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