Genre: Middle Grade

A Graphic Novel Memoir: El Deafo (2014) by Cece Bell

A Graphic Novel Memoir: El Deafo (2014) by Cece BellEl Deafo by Cece Bell
Published by Abrams on September 2nd 2014
Genres: Autobiography, Comics & Graphic Novels, Diseases, Illnesses & Injuries, Friendship, Health & Daily Living, Middle Grade, Social Issues
Pages: 224

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful and very awkward hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear sometimes things she shouldn t but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become El Deafo, Listener for All. And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she s longed for. --Publishers Weekly, starred review

              El Deafo Illuminated:

El Deafo is a delightful romp of a graphic novel portraying the life of Cece Bell, its author, who grew up with a hearing impairment. It’s a graphic novel memoir, and it tells the heartwarming story of a girl navigating a world with a hearing aid, and all this entails for her friendships, schooling, and family life.

We get an insider’s glimpse into what it’s like to be a girl who has trouble hearing, surrounded by other kids and teachers who don’t have this issue. The result is often laugh out loud funny and you’ll be definitely be cheering for Cece throughout this award-winning story. She has her ups and downs, and that’s what makes this book especially realistic.

I hadn’t even heard of El Deafo until it came to my attention at the ALA Youth Media Awards. It didn’t take me long to get into the book to understand why this one had attracted awards. To be honest, I had never thought much about what it would be like to be a child losing your hearing, and adjusting to a fairly different way of existing in the world. You’re surrounded by other people who can hear and understand each other, but you can’t (without a little help).

Bell’s depiction of her childhood adjusting to this new life and culture is refreshing and honest.

The book is episodic and covers multiple years in the life of its protagonist–we watch Cece struggle with life in school with a giant hearing aid, and watch how her perception of herself affects the way she interacts with others. But as time goes by, and she recognizes the “power” she has due to her hearing aid, this perception of herself begins to change. I loved the imagination and creativity of this protagonist–I can imagine that this graphic novel would probably work well as a read aloud too.

Who Should Read This Book:

This graphic novel comes strongly recommended, whether you’re a fan of graphic novels or not. This one is accessible and engages with topics we can all appreciate—the search for a true friend, the struggle to fit in, and the difficulties of switching schools.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live with a hearing impairment, you’ll want to read this book for its insightful and sensitive treatment of what it means for a young girl to navigate the world of deafness. The result is a beautiful celebration of a creative and imaginative spirit who deserves to find a solid friend—because Cece herself is a reliable friend. I appreciated the way Bell portrays Cece’s different encounters with other girls in her school or neighborhood as she seeks a “partner in crime.” Not everything went smoothly for Cece, and that made it seem more realistic.

The Final Illumination:

I loved how Cece gradually grew to appreciate her Phonic Ear—in fact, it turned her into a kind of super hero! Cece is on a journey to find a true friend, and there’s bumps along the way, but ultimately the book illuminates how friends appreciate us for our differences, and that genuine friendship is worth the wait.

Cece is such a delightful character—not only do we meet her in the narrative’s text, but we encounter her through Bell’s colorful and expressive comics.

A stunning middle grade story about a lovely girl—a graphic novel memoir that is a sure winner for young and old alike!

What Katie Read

The Power of Imaginary Friends: The Imaginary (Review) by A.F. Harrold, illustr., Emily Gravett

The Power of Imaginary Friends: The Imaginary (Review) by A.F. Harrold, illustr., Emily GravettThe Imaginary by A.F. Harrold
Published by Bloomsbury USA on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Imagination & Play, Middle Grade
Pages: 224

Rudger is Amanda Shuffleup's imaginary friend. Nobody else can see Rudger-until the evil Mr. Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr. Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumor has it that he even eats them. And now he's found Rudger.Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. He needs to find Amanda before Mr. Bunting catches him-and before Amanda forgets him and he fades away to nothing. But how can an unreal boy stand alone in the real world?In the vein of Coraline, this gripping take on imaginary friends comes to life in a lush package: beautiful illustrations (10 in full color) by acclaimed artist Emily Gravett, a foiled and debossed case cover, printed endpapers, and deckled page edges.

Illuminations of Spirituality in The Imaginary:

The imagination is important, and any story that celebrates that, in my opinion, has value.

Amanda’s imaginary friend, Rudger, brings joy to her life, but not only that—he is ready and willing to protect her against the evil (and imaginary friend-eating) Mr. Bunting—who is actually a threat to both Rudger and Amanda.

It turns out that Amanda’s mother had an imaginary friend when she was a child: A dog named Fridge. Fridge makes an appearance in the book, and this brings up a really interesting aspect to the narrative.

Rather than just reinforcing how important it is for children to engage their imaginations, it’s also a good thing for adults to continue to nurture it as well.

Just because we grow older doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to use our imagination. Sure, we may not have imaginary friends anymore, but the imagination is not something we should leave behind when we age.

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to present a paper at a conference on Early Childhood Education, Imagination, Creativity, and Spirituality in Jerusalem. You can imagine that it was right up my alley as far as the topic was involved and I was excited! It was just a one-day conference and a lot of it was in Hebrew (obviously not my talk) but it was amazing to be around other educators and people working with children in some capacity who believed in the importance of the imagination AND spirituality AND creativity. I think all three of these elements are linked, but that discussion will be for another day. Anyways, reading this book (which is for a readership older than the early childhood crowd) reminded me of some of what we talked about at that conference. What happens in the classroom should be engaging and nurturing children’s imaginations and creativity. When that doesn’t happen, I think we need to make a change. That brings me to the idea of adults stepping in to encourage their children’s imaginative play:

In the book, Amanda’s mother is ok with Amanda having an imaginary friend, Rudger, and I won’t spoil anything but is eventually able to encourage it. Her friend, Julia, though, has a mother who believes that her daughter needs a visit to the child psychologist when she starts going on about an imaginary friend. This contrast between the two mothers reveals a sad point—while some parents nurture the imagination of their children, others may unintentionally have a negative effect on their creativity. In this aspect of the book, there is something valuable for adult readers–as adults we should strive to nurture the creativity and imagination of our children–this may be one of our greatest goals!

Who Should Read This Book:

If you enjoy Middle Grade fantasy with cute and quirky illustrations (thanks to award winning illustrator, Emily Gravett!) that is a little creepy in parts, you’ll want to pick up The Imaginary. This isn’t a long read, and the illustrations really add to its enchantment. You can check out more about Emily Gravett here. I think you’ll appreciate the idea of a library serving as a holding spot for imaginary friends seeking children to partner with. There’s even a teddy bear who wanders around, pushing “a cart brimming with drinks and cake.”

The Final Illumination:

We readers know how important the imagination is, and it’s possible that many of us even had our own imaginary friends when we were young. We might not have encountered a man named Mr. Bunting who threatened to “eat” our imaginary friends, but there probably were forces in our lives that attempted to squash our imagination and creativity.

That being said, in some places in the text (and pictures) the narrative is a bit dark and because of that I would recommend it for an older reader, or at least a reader that’s ok with creepier dimensions in a fantasy. Of course, every reader is different! I would probably have been a little creeped out by this as a young reader, but it’s hard to say exactly how I would have reacted since I’m now an adult reader looking back.

To conclude, The Imaginary is a creatively illustrated and entertaining story celebrating the power and value of the imagination, and highlights the significance of an adult’s role within children’s creative lives.

Did you read The Imaginary? What did you think? Did you think Mr. Bunting was creepy? What about your own childhood? Did you have an imaginary friends?


What Katie Read

Middle Grade Bookish Illumination: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Middle Grade Bookish Illumination: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Published by Penguin on August 28th 2014
Genres: Autobiography, Literary, Middle Grade, Prejudice & Racism, Social Issues, Women
Pages: 336

National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.  Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become. Praise for Jacqueline Woodson: Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.” —The New York Times Book Review

Illuminations of Spirituality in Brown Girl Dreaming

Not only does this autobiography in verse deal with issues of family relationships, dreams, and social justice, the story also highlights the topic of religion. For example, whenever Jacqueline stays with her grandparents in South Carolina, she is taught the ways of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she takes classes, attend church, and goes door to door. In this way, the author’s childhood religious formation figures in as an important dimension of the story.

What I really appreciated was the way the author came to some resolution about this faith through the closing “chapters.” You definitely finish the book knowing more about how Woodson came to terms with her childhood faith. I think the closing “poems” of the book are some of its strongest—I was truly impressed with the way she wrapped everything up. I was sad to see the book end and sad to say goodbye to the characters.

I believe that honoring our heritage and appreciating the sacrifices our family members have made for us can be a spiritual practice, in a way. Brown Girl Dreaming definitely reflects this aspect, and I found myself returning to the family tree at the beginning of the book again and again. I wanted to look up particular family members and trace the year they were born, and the year they died (if they weren’t still living). In this way, I felt a closeness to the story—the family tree invited me into the living room of Woodson’s life, and gave me a chair to sit in.

I felt like I knew Woodson’s grandfather and grandmother in South Carolina. I could hear the squeak swing from the backyard and smell her grandmother’s cornbread baking in the oven. This story was filled with sensory detail that put me right in the middle of the action.

To sum up: Brown Girl Dreaming reflects some aspects of spirituality in a sensitive and moving way. Woodson highlights one particular faith in her own life, but not at the expense of shutting out every other kind of faith.

Who Should Read This Book:

This is a Newbery Honor book for 2014—the ALA awards were announced just last month, and the Newbery is an award to take note of. I honestly thought this had a chance at the Newbery and I was right—for it received an honor. That being said, I think any and all readers should sit down with this beautiful novel in verse. It won’t take you as long to read a middle grade novel in verse as it would one in narrative form, but you may find yourself stopping to soak in the beautiful imagery and rhythm of these poems. You may find yourself reading certain pages aloud—and that’s a good thing.

If you’ve ever had a dream that seemed impossible, read this book. It’s a lovely testament to how someone who struggled with reading became a beautiful and world-changing writer.

The Final Illumination:

I LOVE novels in verse! When I taught Middle School English, my 7th graders read Crossing Stones by Helen Frost, and did we ever have fun with that book in the classroom! Poetry is also one of my favorite genres to read and write—so Middle Grade novels in verse (which are becoming more and more prevalent) are a group of texts I genuinely enjoy reading (if the story is something I’m interested in). In this case, I thought Woodson’s text was inspiring, lyrical, and moving. I know I’ll definitely return to it.

There are so many rich passages in the book, but I’ll leave you with just a few:

Then I let the stories live

Inside my head, again and again

Until the real world fades back

Into cricket lullabies

And my own dreams. (99)


I know

If I wanted to

I could write anything. (156)


Did you read Brown Girl Dreaming? What about other novels in verse you would recommend?

What Katie Read
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