Award winning author Cece Bell has been writing and illustrating children’s picture books for several years. This year, her book for older children, El Deafo, earned her a Newberry Honor. A graphic novel memoir, El Deafo tells her story of becoming almost completely deaf at a young age due to illness. Depicting the resulting challenges—and delights—are a cast of bunny characters that tell a very human story.
El Deafo Book Cover
Public Libraries: You’ve written and illustrated a number of picture books. But what made you want to write for older kids with your Newberry Honor book El Deafo?
Cece Bell: I really felt like a graphic novel was the perfect format for this particular story—a picture book would not have been able to show all I needed to tell. And the story I wanted to tell involved a lot of the same issues that middle grade kids are experiencing now, so it just made more sense to write this book with middle grade readers in mind.
PL: What was the best and hardest part of writing/illustrating this book?
CB: In general, the hardest part was just the sheer amount of work involved in making the book. So much drawing! So much figuring out! More specifically, the chapter about sign language was extremely difficult to write. I am not proud of the attitude I had about sign language when I was a kid, but I wanted to be honest about it in the book. I worked very hard in this chapter to balance my own negative feelings with the more positive facts about sign language that the sign language teacher shares with me during this chapter.
PL: Were you a library user when you were young? Do you use the library now?
CB: I definitely used the library when I was young. I was lucky because I could walk to our local library—it was just four blocks from home. I confess that I did a lot more looking at pictures than I did actual reading. I soaked up the picture books and disappeared into the enormous collection of Winsor McCay’s Sunday comic strip, Little Nemo in Wonderland, which was so big you weren’t allowed to check it out.
I use the library today as a quiet place to get some writing and illustrating done. I still love to soak up the pictures in the picture book section, too.
PL: What do you enjoy most about library and school visits?
CB: I really enjoy answering the kids’ questions, and then getting to spend a little bit of one-on-one time with them.
PL: If you weren’t a children’s book writer and illustrator, what would you like to be?
CB: There’s nothing else I’d rather be! But I occasionally wish that I was a jazz pianist. How cool would that be?