El Deafo

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El Deafo
AuthorCece Bell
IllustratorCece Bell
David Lasky (colors)
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's literature
Graphic novel
PublisherAmulet Books[1]
Publication date
September 2, 2014
Media typePrint
LC ClassHV2534.B44 A3 2014

El Deafo is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Cece Bell. The book is a loose autobiographical account of Bell's childhood and life with her deafness. The characters in the book are all anthropomorphic bunnies. Cece Bell, in an interview with the Horn Book Magazine,[2] states "What are bunnies known for? Big ears; excellent hearing," rendering her choice of characters and their deafness ironic.

The graphic novel was adapted into a three-part animated miniseries for Apple TV+.[3]


The book depicts the childhood of Cece Bell, who lost her hearing at a young age and required the assistance of a Phonic Ear hearing aid while she was growing up to be the person who she is now.

While the hearing aid enables her to hear the world around her, it also distances her from some children her own age because she is seen as "different". This causes both frustration and depression in Cece, as she is desperate to find a true friend but frequently feels that she has to accept poor treatment from others being afraid of losing what few friends she has. She deals with these feelings by treating her hearing aid as a superpower, as it gives her the ability to hear everything. For example, she hears private teacher conversations, as her teachers wear a tiny microphone that transmits sound to Cece's hearing aid; and not every teacher remembers to turn it off when they leave the classroom. She adopts the secret nickname "El Deafo".

As time passes Cece grows more assertive and opens up to the people around her, especially when she meets a new friend who doesn't seem to care that she wears a hearing aid. She also grows comfortable in confronting people that treat her differently because of her deafness, finding that many of them are largely unaware that their actions cause her emotional harm. Ultimately Cece opens up to her new friend and reveals her secret persona as "El Deafo", much to the delight of her friend, who agrees to serve as her sidekick. As she gets older, she realizes that she no longer has to hide her "superpower" with others.


  • Cecilia 'Cece' Bell: Main character
  • Dorn: Cece's kindergarten teacher
  • Mrs. Lufton: Cece's 1st grade teacher
  • Mrs. Ikelberry: Cece's 3rd grade teacher
  • Mrs. Sinklemann: Cece's 5th grade teacher
  • Emma: Cece's 1st best friend
  • Laura: Cece's best friend in 1st and 2nd grade
  • Ginny Wakeley: Cece's new friend in 3rd grade
  • Martha Ann Claytor: Cece's best friend in the end of 4th grade and continues to be one
  • Mike Miller: Cece's 1st crush and new neighbor
  • Babarah Bell: Cece's mother
  • George Bell: Cece's father
  • Ashley Bell: Cece's older brother
  • Sarah Bell: Cece's older sister
  • Mr. Potts: Cece's gym teacher
  • El Deafo: Cece's alter-ego

Awards and honors[edit]

El Deafo is a Junior Library Guild book.[4]

The Horn Book Magazine,[5] Kirkus Reviews,[6] the Los Angeles Public Library,[4] Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal[4] named it one of the best books of 2014. It was also a New York Times Notable Children's Book.[4]

Awards for El Deafo
Year Award Result Ref.
2014 Cybils Award for Elementary and Middle Grade Graphic Novel Winner [7]
Goodreads Choice Award for Best Middle Grade and Children's Nominee [8]
Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature Finalist [6][9]
2015 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize Longlist [10][11]
ALSC Notable Children's Books Selection [12]
Charlotte Huck Award Honor [13]
Children's Choice Book Award for Debut Author Finalist [14]
Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids Winner [15]
Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work Finalist [16]
Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection [17]
Judy Lopez Memorial Award Winner [18]
Newbery Medal Honor [19][20]

Critical reception[edit]

El Deafo was well received by critics, including starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews[6] and Publishers Weekly.[21]

Publishers Weekly called the book "a standout autobiography," writing, "Cece’s predilection for bursting into tears at the wrong time belies a gift for resilience that makes her someone readers will enjoy getting to know."[21]

Kirkus Reviews wrote that Bell's "whimsical color illustrations (all the human characters have rabbit ears and faces), clear explanations and Cece’s often funny adventures help make the memoir accessible and entertaining."[6]

Similarly, Susannah Richards, writing for Shelf Awareness, wrote "Readers will delight in the insightful and funny thoughts Cece shares through the guise of her cape-wearing alter ego, the superhero El Deafo. Cece's universal feelings make this memoir accessible to anyone who has experienced moments of awkwardness in wondering what others are thinking, making friends or wishing they had super powers."[22]

Booklist's Sarah Hunter called El Deafo an "empowering autobiographical story" and noted how "Bell’s bold and blocky full-color cartoons perfectly complement her childhood stories—she often struggles to fit in and sometimes experiences bullying, but the cheerful illustrations promise a sunny future."[23]

Katherine Bouton, a writer from The New York Times, calls the book inspirational for those who are different.[24]

Television adaptation[edit]

A three-part animated miniseries adaptation of the graphic novel was released on Apple TV+ on January 7, 2022.[25] The miniseries features the voices of Pamela Adlon, Jane Lynch and Chuck Nice. The miniseries is narrated by author Cece Bell with music by Waxahatchee. Most of the dialogue is filtered through hearing aids. The child version of Cece Bell is voiced by Lexi Finnigan, who is also deaf and has cochlear implants.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Amulet Books". Archived from the original on 27 May 2015. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  2. ^ Deirdre Baker (November 12, 2014). "Cece Bell on El Deafo". The Horn Book. Archived from the original on 16 January 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  3. ^ "'El Deafo' Apple TV Plus Review: Stream It Or Skip It?". Archived from the original on 2022-02-23. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  4. ^ a b c d "El Deafo by Cece Bell". Junior Library Guild. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  5. ^ "Horn Book Fanfare 1938 to present". The Horn Book. Archived from the original on 2021-10-30. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  6. ^ a b c d "El Deafo". Kirkus Reviews. 2014-07-22. Archived from the original on 2023-03-20. Retrieved 2023-04-02.
  7. ^ "2014 Cybils Winners". Archived from the original on 2023-03-24. Retrieved 2023-03-23.
  8. ^ "El Deafo". Goodreads. Archived from the original on 2023-04-03. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  9. ^ "Awards: Thurber; Maine Readers' Choice; Kirkus Prize". Shelf Awareness. 2014-10-01. Archived from the original on 2023-03-07. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  10. ^ "Awards: Hellenic Winners; Guardian Children's Fiction". Shelf Awareness. 2015-07-15. Archived from the original on 2016-08-20. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  11. ^ "David Almond Wins Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2015". Publishers Weekly. 2015-11-19. Archived from the original on 2022-08-15. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  12. ^ "Notable Children's Books: 2015". Booklist. 2015-03-15. Archived from the original on 2021-10-18. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  13. ^ "NCTE Charlotte Huck Award® Outstanding Fiction for Children Winner List" (PDF). National Council of Teachers of English. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2023-04-03. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  14. ^ "Children's Choice Book Award Finalists Announced". Publishers Weekly. 2015-02-19. Archived from the original on 2022-11-11. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  15. ^ "2010-Present". Comic-Con International: San Diego. 2012-12-02. Archived from the original on 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  16. ^ Asselin, Janelle (2015-05-22). "2015 Eisner Award Nominations Announced". ComicsAlliance. Archived from the original on 2022-12-03. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  17. ^ "Great Graphic Novels for Teens: 2015". Booklist. 2015-03-15. Archived from the original on 2022-01-22. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  18. ^ "Meet Our Previous Winners". The Judy Lopez Memorial Award. Archived from the original on 2022-01-06. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  19. ^ "El Deafo | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. 2015-04-12. Archived from the original on 2021-12-06. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  20. ^ Communications and Marketing Office (2015-02-06). "American Library Association announces 2015 youth media award winners". American Library Association. Archived from the original on 2022-11-28. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  21. ^ a b "El Deafo by Cece Bell". Publishers Weekly. 2014-07-07. Archived from the original on 2022-10-05. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  22. ^ Richards, Susannah (2014-09-19). "El Deafo". Shelf Awareness. Archived from the original on 2022-05-25. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  23. ^ Hunter, Sarah (August 2014). "El Deafo". Booklist. Archived from the original on 2023-03-27. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  24. ^ Sonic Youth Archived 2015-11-05 at the Wayback Machine August 22, 2014
  25. ^ "Trailer: Cece Bell's 'El Deafo' Joins Apple TV+ Kids Lineup January 7". 16 December 2021. Archived from the original on 16 December 2021. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  26. ^ "Miller School Patient Lands Role as Main Character's Voice on Apple TV's El Deafo Series". 8 March 2022. Retrieved 14 April 2023.