Saturday, February 10, 2024

Keynote: An Interview with Cece Bell

SCBWI Executive Director Sarah Baker interviewed author/illustrator Cece Bell.

Cece Bell is the author and illustrator of the groundbreaking graphic novel, El Deafo (Harry N. Abrams), which is loosely based on her loss of hearing at a young age. It received a Newbery Medal, an Eisner Award, and a Cybils Award. Other stand-alone titles include Bee-Wigged (Candlewick) and I Yam a Donkey! (Clarion). She’s also the creator of beloved character-based series, including the Rabbit and Robot books and the Chick and Brain books (all Candlewick), and she illustrated the Inspector Flytrap chapter books written by her husband, Tom Angleberger (Harry N. Abrams). Her next book, Animal Albums from A to Z (Walker Books US), will be released in 2024. She works in both digital and classic media to create her distinctive art.

Cece Bell (left) and Sarah Baker,
with a montage of slide images shared

Cece shares about her childhood, losing her hearing beginning at age four, early books she loved, and how being funny and making things were elements of what makes her her. Cece got a graduate degree in design and illustration, and reflects that the design part of that education was more helpful -- because even things that are illustrated need to be designed first.

Cece was 30 when she got her first book going, and speaks of how technology like emails and zoom have made her career possible.

Highlights from their conversation include:

In response to Sarah speaking about how kids react to Cece's books, Cece said:

"I'm actually not thinking about the kids. I'm thinking about what's fun? What's funny?"

On writing El Deafo:

Cece wrote it at a low point, in a very collaborative way with her editor, Susan Van Metre, Executive Editorial Director of Walker Books US. The favorite thing Cece's heard about El Deafo:

"My kid liked this book so much that they sleep with it, like a stuffed animal."

And we get a sneak peek of Cece's next book, Animal Albums for A to Z, where every letter is an album cover, with animal musicians, and lyrics (a.k.a. poems), each a different musical genre.

Being a deaf person, Cece says, "there are more ways to appreciate music than just hearing it."

We also get to see process shots of the E page, paper cutouts and hand-drawn lettering, sculptures, and Cece tells us she even produced 26 songs that you can hear on a webpage from a QR in the book! She's also producing music videos!

Sarah comments that the book busts through both ideas of the relationship hearing impaired folks can have with music, as well as ideas of what a picture book can be... Cece's response? "Good!"

Much more was shared in this fun and engaging conversation... and it ended with a standing ovation!

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On!

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