In today’s diverse and ever-changing world, fostering empathy, promoting inclusivity, and celebrating differences are more important than ever. Literature is a powerful tool that can help achieve these goals, and one book that stands out in this regard is El Deafo by Cece Bell. This graphic novel has the potential to be a valuable addition to any classroom curriculum, offering a unique perspective on disability, friendship, and acceptance.

A while back, I partook in a discussion on Facebook about the factuality of the novel Wonder. I love the book Wonder and feel it has a solid place in the classroom, but how the author addresses hearing loss is concerning. I addressed this in my novel study by adding a non-fiction article to help portray the real side of hearing loss so that students reading the novel understand the mistakes made by the author.

While discussing my feelings on Facebook, another person asked if I had read the novel El Deafo by Cece Bell. She was curious about how real and factual it is to a person who walks in the shoes of hearing loss, such as me. She said her students overwhelmingly love the Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel. I immediately ordered the novel to read and am so happy I did!

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I have been living with hearing loss for over 25 years. It is a daily struggle to communicate with my family and the world. I have lost many things due to my hearing loss, including my teaching career. El Deafo is the autobiographical story of Cece Bell’s struggles with hearing loss told in a graphic novel format that is a perfect way to get the true feelings across. The book highlights how Cece embraces these struggles and turns them into a superpower! Even though Cece is in elementary school in the book, and I am well beyond that age, I found myself shaking my head in agreement and relating to Cece like I never have before in any other story I have read. It’s like so many of the things she was saying I have said or felt so many times!


The message that volume does not equal better hearing was strong in this book, and it is a message that the hearing world really fails to understand yet really needs to! Talking louder, talking slower, talking more pronounced DOES NOT HELP! It makes it much more difficult for those like Cece and myself who rely on lip-reading to understand. If the only message that you take away from this story is NOT to turn up the volume for those with hearing loss, the world will be a better place! That’s not the only message, as there were so many I could relate to, including isolation, feelings of shame, embarrassment, avoidance of situations, putting up with things and people only due to fear, and on and on. Cece embraces her differences and turns them into a superpower that draws people to her. I just loved everything about this book. You don’t have to have hearing loss to relate to and love this book, in fact, it is better for those with no hearing loss to read so they can better understand.

Benefits of Using El Deafo in Your Classroom:

  • Promotes Disability Awareness and Understanding: El Deafo is a heartfelt and engaging memoir that chronicles the author’s own experiences growing up with a hearing impairment. By introducing students to Cece Bell’s personal journey, teachers can help them gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like to live with a disability. This can lead to more compassionate and empathetic students who are better equipped to interact with people of all abilities.
  • Encourages Empathy: One of the most powerful aspects of El Deafo is its ability to evoke empathy in readers. Cece’s struggles and triumphs are relatable to many, regardless of their own experiences. By exploring the challenges faced by the protagonist, students can develop a greater sense of empathy towards those who may have different life experiences, fostering a more inclusive and understanding classroom environment.
  • Celebrates Differences: In El Deafo, Cece Bell uses her superhero alter ego, “El Deafo,” to navigate the complexities of her hearing impairment. This unique perspective not only celebrates diversity but also highlights the importance of embracing one’s differences. By discussing the book in class, teachers can promote self-acceptance and encourage students to appreciate the qualities that make each individual unique.
  • Enhances Literacy Skills: El Deafo is a graphic novel, which makes it an excellent choice for promoting literacy skills, especially for reluctant readers. The combination of text and illustrations helps students engage with the story on multiple levels, improving their comprehension and critical thinking skills. Teachers can use the book to teach literary devices, character development, and narrative structure.
  • Fosters Classroom Discussions: Using El Deafo as a classroom resource can spark meaningful discussions about a wide range of topics, including friendship, communication, resilience, and bullying. These discussions can encourage students to express their thoughts and opinions, promoting a more open and inclusive learning environment.
  • Supports Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Social and emotional learning is a crucial aspect of education, and El Deafo can be a valuable tool for addressing SEL competencies. Through the story, students can explore themes such as self-awareness, self-management, and relationship skills. Teachers can create activities and discussions that align with SEL goals, helping students develop essential life skills.


El Deafo is a powerful and impactful novel that offers a unique perspective on the experiences of the hearing-loss community. Its accessible format, relevant themes, and emotional connection make it an ideal choice for a novel study in the classroom.

See what people are saying about the El Deafo Novel Study by The Teaching Bank!

Try a free sample of the novel study for El Deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell is a powerful and engaging graphic novel that has the potential to enrich the classroom experience in numerous ways. By using this book as part of their curriculum, teachers can promote disability awareness, encourage empathy, celebrate differences, enhance literacy skills, foster meaningful discussions, and support social and emotional learning. Ultimately, El Deafo can help create a more inclusive, empathetic, and understanding classroom environment, preparing students to be compassionate and open-minded individuals in an increasingly diverse world.

You can purchase this novel study at the following locations:


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