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  • Blog Posts
  • Putting Books to Work

Putting Books to Work: El Deafo

by Aimee Rogers
 | Mar 17, 2015

Bell, Cece. (2014). El Deafo. New York, NY: Amulet.

Ages: 9–14


El Deafo is the 2015 Newbery Honor–winning graphic memoir of author and illustrator Cece Bell. As a result of a case of meningitis at the age of 4, Bell lost most of her hearing. She describes herself as “severely to profoundly deaf.” Although Bell is true to her memories of her childhood in El Deafo, she presents herself and all of the other characters as rabbits. This artistic choice works perfectly in El Deafo.

As a result of her hearing loss, Bell must wear hearing aids at home and a device called the Phonic Ear at school. Much of El Deafo focuses on how Bell feels like she sticks out. But she discovers that her Phonic Ear gives her “superpowers” in that she is able to hear her teacher not only in the classroom, but also when the teacher is anywhere else in the school. This brings sometimes hilarious results, as Bell can her hear teacher in the teachers’ lounge and even in the bathroom! Bell quickly embraces this ability and christens herself El Deafo, the superhero.

In addition to the challenges of growing up while feeling different, El Deafo explores other common challenges of growing up. The book follows El Deafo through fifth grade. We experience, with Bell, the struggle to make friends, the loss of friends, trying to find the right friend, and the work it takes to keep that friend. We watch her blush as she develops her first crush, Mike Miller, and stammers to put together coherent sentences in his presence. We feel Bell’s frustration with the people who treat her differently—the ones who talk too slow or too loud and even those who treat her like a baby.

Cross-Curricular Connections: English, social studies/history, art, health/character education

Ideas for Classroom Use

“Our differences are our superpowers.”

In her author’s note, Bell states, “Our differences are our superpowers.” What does she mean by this? How do differences equate to superpowers? If this statement is true, what are some of the superpowers in your classroom? What is something that makes you different? How is this your superpower?

The Connection to Animals

It is not uncommon for characters in books to be animals, nor is it uncommon for people to be represented by animals. Have students explore this connection to animals in an essay or a poster. Why do people feel so connected to animals? Why use animals to represent people? To make this activity more focused on El Deafo, why do you think that Bell selected rabbits? Is there a symbolism in Bell’s use of rabbits?

Animal Counterpart

If you had to represent yourself as an animal, which animal would it be and why? Draw a picture of yourself as this animal. If you had to represent the entire human race as an animal, which animal would you select and why?


If you could pick any superpower, what would you pick and why? How would you use this superpower? Bell calls herself “El Deafo” and has designed a costume for herself. What would be your superhero name? Design a costume for yourself.

Additional Resources and Activities

Author Cece Bell Talks About Her New Book, El Deafo: In this 3-minute video, Bell provides an introduction to El Deafo. She also shows the Phonic Ear, which is what gave her the “superpower” of hearing her teacher everywhere she was in the school.

El Deafo: How a Girl Turned Her Disability Into a Superpower: This NPR article and interview goes into further detail about El Deafo and Bell’s experiences as a child.

El Deafo Extras: What Did El Deafo First Look Like?: This is a blog post from Bell’s website. In the post, Bell discusses that she didn’t have any experience writing a graphic novel prior to writing and illustrating El Deafo. She includes some of her initial pages from Chapter 4. An interesting activity would be to compare these initial versions of Chapter 4 to the final versions in the published El Deafo. Students could discuss the changes, identify those they found most effective, and talk about which version they prefer.

The rest of Bell’s blog is worth checking out as well, especially El Deafo Extras: From Outline to Finished Product: This is another blog post in which Bell takes readers through the process of developing Chapter 15 from her first outlines to her sketches to the final product.

Aimee Rogers is an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota. She is a member of the reading faculty and teaches children’s literature courses. Her research interests include how readers make meaning with graphic novels as well as representation in children’s and young adult literature. She can be reached at

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