Last Wednesday evening, I stood outside Montpelier High School and greeted young readers and their adults as they arrived at the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Ceremony. Kids and their adults piled into the auditorium to hear Cece Bell speak about her award-winning book El Deafo.

El Deafo is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a young rabbit who loses most of her hearing at the very young age of five. Because of her deafness, she feels different from the other kids and faces many challenges in school. She creates a superhero persona in herself “El Deafo,” and as El Deafo, she can accomplish anything. It’s a wonderfully uplifting and inspiring story with bright and expressive illustrations.

When the ceremony began, I took a seat in the back row. As much as I love getting a good seat to hear an author speak, at the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Ceremony I like to watch the listeners even more. When you watch the listeners, you get to see how they connect with the author and with the story.

When Cece Bell began to speak, the room went silent. Every head in the audience turned in her direction. Kids clung to their copies of El Deafo. There were no squirmers, just engaged listeners who laughed at her jokes, squealed in excitement, and sat thoughtfully as she discussed the tough times she faced as a child. When it was time to ask questions, kids jumped up and waited patiently in line. Their questions were thoughtful, curious, insightful, and sensitive. I cried twice (which thankfully I was able to hide because I was in the back row).

This year, due to logistics, the ceremony took place after the school year ended and many young readers came with their parents rather than school groups. Though it was a different setup, it ended up leading to my favorite part of the evening. A young boy and his father sat a few rows ahead of me. About midway through Cece’s speech, I watched the dad put his arm around his son as they listened together.

I may have been in the back row and only took a couple of lousy pictures from far away, but in a way I got a front row seat. On Wednesday night, I got a firsthand look at how literature can connect with a reader. And equally as important, how literature connects us with each other.

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