Friend Friday

It is such an honor to turn the blog over to Cece Bell today. I fell in love with Cece when she posted photos of her kitchen cupboards on her blog. I knew she had a great sense of humor and style and then I got to meet her and found out what a great heart she has as well. Oh, yeah, and she’s a darned good writer, too! 

Cece Bell and a few friends

El Deafo is not only my first graphic novel, it is the first time that I’ve addressed the fact that I am deaf in any of my books for children. This book is also a love letter to my mother, to my childhood crush, and to my first true friend; it’s especially a love letter to the hearing aid technology of the seventies and eighties that made so many things possible for me.
I lost my hearing in 1975, after a serious bout with meningitis. An audiologist called my hearing loss “severe to profound,” and I was outfitted with a little box-style hearing aid that I wore in a pouch on my chest, with cords leading up to my ears. My first year of school was with other deaf kids, and we learned our ABC’s, our 123’s, and how to lip-read. First grade, however, was different, because we had moved to a smaller town that didn’t have a magnet program for deaf kids. But I was pretty good at lip-reading and speaking, so my parents went ahead and enrolled me in the local school. I was no longer part of a group of deaf kids but was now the only deaf kid in the whole school.
I got outfitted with a new hearing aid for school use only, and what a hearing aid it was! It was called the Phonic Ear, and it was paired with a microphone that amplified and clarified my teacher’s voice, just for me. I could hear her wherever she was in the classroom, and—here comes the juicy part—I could hear her wherever she was in the entire school building. That meant I got to listen in on her private conversations with other teachers, her private smoking breaks, and her very private bathroom breaks. Oh my heavens! This was power.

It was strange. I was deaf, but I also had super-hearing. I thought of myself as a superhero—El Deafo—but in my imagination only. El Deafo tried to fight my battles for me, both large and small, but the real me stayed passive. The real me was both terrified of confrontation of any kind, and too self-conscious about being different from my classmates. So I kept my superpowers hidden. It was only a desire to impress my childhood crush—a boy in my neighborhood—that led me to start sharing what I was hearing with the other kids. I started to make friends at school because I started sharing my superpowers, and having friends empowered me to become a little like El Deafo for real.
I think most kids feel different in one way or another, and so I’m hopeful that most kids might get something good out of El Deafo if they read it. Not every kid has hearing loss, of course, but most kids have crushes, and difficult experiences with both well-meaning and mean people, and deep longings to find a real, true friend. El Deafo has all of that, with drawings! And speech balloons! And everyone’s a rabbit, to boot. Because everyone looks better with rabbit ears, right?

Virginia author and illustrator Cece Bell lives in an old church with her husband, author Tom Angleberger, and she works in a new-ish barn right next door. Cece has written and illustrated several books for children, including the Geisel Honor book Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, Itty Bitty, Bee-Wigged, and the Sock Monkey series (soon to be reprinted, hooray!). She still wears behind-the-ear hearing aids and wishes that people in restaurant settings would come equipped with closed-captioning.