Tag: friendship

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

Honey (2015) by Sarah Weeks (Release Date: January 27th)

Honey (2015) by Sarah Weeks (Release Date: January 27th)Honey by Sarah Weeks
Published by Scholastic Inc. on January 27th 2015
Genres: Family, Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues
Pages: 160

For a girl like Melody and a dog like Mo, life can be both sticky and sweet. Melody has lived in Royal, Indiana, for as long as she can remember. It's been just her and her father, and she's been okay with that. But then she overhears him calling someone Honey -- and suddenly it feels like everyone in Royal has a secret. It's up to Melody and her best friend, Nick, to piece together the clues and discover why Honey is being hidden. Meanwhile, a dog named Mo is new to Royal. He doesn't remember much from when he was a puppy . . . but he keeps having dreams of a girl he is bound to meet someday. This girl, he's sure, will change everything. In HONEY, Sarah Weeks introduces two characters -- one a girl, one a dog-- who are reaching back further than their memories in order to figure out where they came from and where they're going. It's a total treat from beginning to end. (From GoodReads)

Suggested Age Range: 8 and up

Illuminations of Spirituality in Honey:

It can be tough living without a mother, even if Melody’s father is pretty cool and they get along just fine. But when Melody hears her dad call someone else “Honey,” she has to get to the bottom of the identity of this person.

I don’t blame Melody—especially when she is still struggling with the idea that she never knew her mother. That’s a space in her heart that can’t be filled by anyone else. This story explores that predicament, and it also highlights the importance of our relationships with others in the face of loss and misunderstanding. It also illuminates the significance of honesty and communication—a good reminder for both young AND old readers.

Can dogs dream? That question surfaces with Mo—the dog who is desperate to find the girl of his dreams and who just may very well lead him back to his original home. A home where he was loved and celebrated.

Melody’s perspective is interspersed with Mo’s throughout the story, and you might wonder how they are ever going to collide. Weeks weaves the two stories together magnificently, but I will say no more.

I have read so many middle grade books recently that highlight young characters in need of healing after losing a close family member or friend in their lives. The Secret Hum of a Daisy and Counting by 7s are two I can think of right off the top of my head. This seems to be a popular topic in children’s literature, because it’s something that young people, sadly, may be going through. These stories are important because they don’t sugarcoat the struggle to be happy after losing a parent or other loved one.

Creative Illuminations:

At 160 pages, Honey is delightfully short and sweet, but I actually would have welcomed more time with Skittle-loving Melody, Sweet Mo, and the Beauty Salon. It’s Bee-Bee, the Beauty Salon owner, who tells Melody a bit more about her mother. Readers who have lost friends or family might be reminded, through the story, that remembering and celebrating the memories of those we love is important. Whether it’s through writing about them, creating art, or just talking about them, this “remembering” is valuable.

The book ends with the 100 nail polish colors in Bee-Bee’s salon. Melody plays a role in creating many of these names, and young readers could even extend the list and create some of their own “shades.” I would definitely be interested in getting my hands on some of those polishes. These shades sound fantastic! If Sarah Weeks based the book on a real salon carrying the colors mentioned in the story, I think that salon might just receive some new patrons.

The Final Illumination:

This story might pull a few tears from readers, but though it has its sad parts, it ultimately ends on a sweet note, and many readers will be fondly thinking of the characters as they turn that last page and feast upon the names of those 100 bottles of nail polish Melody creates. I know I laughed and hoped for the best for Melody, her father, and Mo as I savored the book, and the community Weeks depicts in the story is a memorable one.

Melody names one of the nail polishes, “Silver Linings,” and Honey certainly shows how’s there a silver lining to any cloud—it’s just all in your perspective.

If you enjoyed, Pie, you should absolutely taste Honey! Of course I’m partial to any book with baking (and a pie shop, as in the case with Pie) but Honey is another delightful realistic narrative from a fantastic author.

Thank you Scholastic, for the e-ARC of Honey. This is in no way affected my honest review!

What Katie Read

China Rabbits & Soaring Hope

China Rabbits & Soaring HopeThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on 2009
Pages: 210

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost. . . . Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. Along the way, we are shown a miracle -- that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

What a wonderful night this was! He was walking on his own. He had an elegant new suit. And now he had wings. He could fly anywhere, do anything. Why had he never realized it before? His heart soared inside of him.  (p. 163)

Suggested age range: 7 and up

A toy fantasy novel for children, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2006) by Kate DiCamillo, features a spiritual landscape through which readers can navigate a rich and rewarding journey. The voyage of a selfish china rabbit, Edward, begins when he is separated from his owner, Abilene Tulane, and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Only after he is lost and alone does he learn what it means to love and to be loved and known by those to whom he is connected during his travels. As he bonds with one owner, is then separated, and forced to find another, he discovers how a heart can break and yet heal again. Edward nearly gives up hope that he will be discovered and loved again after he experiences loss three times. In the conclusion of the story, Edward waits in a toyshop for what seems to be many years, hoping for love and meaningful connection once again. In case you have not read the novel, I’ll refrain from telling all.

The dilemma that Edward faces is a universal one and readers of all ages would benefit from reading DiCamillo’s text in that the narrative highlights the necessity of maintaining hope and keeping one’s heart open to experiences—both good and bad. Though the story has its dark turns, the overall message is that one should never give up hope, and though we can be wounded in relationships, faith in future connections is vital. Readers may recognize the dilemma with which Edward is faced; it is painful to open one’s heart and then face loss, but if true connection is to be discovered, one must take the risk of vulnerability once again. As Hunt states in her discussion of spiritual stories, surely this is a theme to which readers would respond, “ ‘This is true.’ ‘This is real’” (1969, p. 51). Additionally, as Wangerin suggests, this is an “ultimate meaning” about life that readers can connect to, through their reading and discussing of DiCamillo’s text (qtd. In Ratcliff with May, 2004, p. 12).

I conducted a study for my dissertation in which I listened to ten and eleven year old children share their ideas about this story with me. Our discussion revealed that young readers talk about their spiritual experience of this novel. Several of the children tapped into the significance of Edward keeping his heart open to further relationships though he had been wounded and saddened by sudden separation. Though as adults we sometimes assume that children may not grasp deeper meanings or themes in texts, the children I spoke with revealed a very sophisticated and sensitive reading of the text’s spiritual landscape. For example, at one point in the story, near the end, Edward dreams (or has a near-death experience) with all the people he has met throughout the novel. He sees in the sky the “Sarah Ruth Constellation,” a swirl of stars he is told represents one girl who died that he loved, Sarah Ruth. Realizing he has wings attached to his back, Edward struggles to fly up to Sarah Ruth. However, those surrounding him pull him back and he wakes up. Though DiCamillo includes no interpretation of this dream in the book, one of my child participants, “Roland,” said this about the significance of the dream: “I think it means that he shouldn’t give up ever in trying to find—in finding people who love him. I think it means he should just keep going and they’re all trying to say that.” Roland continued to talk about the dream, and made comments reflecting an understanding of potential spiritual themes at work in the book.

DiCamillo’s text highlights the significance of relationships with others, one of the four major connections out of which spiritual awareness can flow. Edward’s dream of all those he has met during his journey highlights the power of relationships with other people. In this dream, Edward is able to walk and almost fly and this points to the transcendent dimension of deep connections with people. When he is sitting on the shelf in the toyshop, he articulates his indifference to anyone coming to buy him, due to the pain he has experienced through his separation from those he has loved. The doll next to him replies,

“But that’s dreadful,” said the old doll. “There’s no point in going on if you feel that way. No point at all. You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next.” “I am done with being loved,” Edward told her. “I’m done with loving. It’s too painful.” “Pish,” said the old doll. “Where is your courage?” (p. 188-189)

The old doll’s words embody spiritual wisdom, as she recognizes it takes bravery to love again after enduring loss, but she is aware that life loses value without fulfilling and close relationships through which one’s heart can love and receive love. If spirituality is understood as an extending of the self, this is definitely a moment in which Edward’s spirituality can grow, as a future of loving connections hinges on his reaching his heart out yet again. As Hunt says, a book with spiritual value can represent “experiences that make us grow…” (1969, p. 51). This moment in the novel represents a potential area of discussion with young readers about Edward’s predicament and his emotional and spiritual state.

This novel of DiCamillo’s is perfect for both children and adults. It is perfect for adults to read and to talk about with others, or not. It is perfect for children to read and talk about with other children or with adults, or not. All around, this is an excellent read with the potential to engage and nurture the spirit of the reader who is so lucky to encounter it.


Hunt, G. (1969). Honey for a child’s heart: the imaginative use of books in family life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Ratcliff, D. & May, S. (2004). Identifying Children’s Spirituality, Walter Wangerin’s Perspectives, and an Overview of the Book. In D. Ratcliff (Ed.), Children’s Spirituality: Perspectives, Research, and Applications (pp. 7-21).  

What Katie Read
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