The Reading Quilt - Alesia: The Life of a Girl in a WheelchairDec 01, 2021 08:00AM ● By Dr. R.A. Slaughter
Published in 1981, Alesia, by Eloise Greenfield and Alesia Revis, details the struggles of a young African American girl who became physically disabled as the result of being hit by a car. Few fiction books include characters with disabilities and fewer include People of Color with disabilities.
In the quest for disability representation, what readers are searching for is quality multicultural literature that “recognize, accept, and affirm human differences and similarities related to gender, race, handicap, and class” (Sleeter & Grant, 1988). As an educator, I join the quest of parents, teachers, and librarians who hope to find biased-free literature featuring physically challenged People of Color as fully developed characters and not story props meant to elicit a reader’s sympathy.
Each month “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students understand human behavior. Using the acronym QUILT, Slaughter offers readers information about the Quality of writing, and Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise.
Born May 17, 1929, in North Carolina, Eloise moved to Washington, DC when she was very little. Growing up, one of five children, Eloise took an interest in piano and reading. She didn’t find her passion for writing until she was in her late twenties. Her goal was to highlight African American culture in her writing. Married with two children, and working as a clerk-typist at the U.S. Patent Office, Eloise carved out time to enjoy her passion for writing. She wrote everything including poetry and songs. Her writing was recognized by many notable writers earning her the Recognition of Merit Award in 1990. Eloise also received an honorary degree from Wheelock College in Boston, MA. Although Eloise is a prolific writer, she never strayed from her main goal: to uplift the African American community. With that goal in mind, Eloise used her talents to provide free creative writing workshops to young people with the help of grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
Quality of writing: Alesia is written as a diary with the character detailing her life as a typical teen who happens to be dealing with a physical challenge. The diary entries are easy-going accounts of teen life with snippets of how Alesia’s physical limitation affects her day-to-day existence.
Universal theme: We read her entries and realized that the Spring of 1980 was bursting full of fun events like school dances, family gatherings, and trips to McDonald’s. Alesia’s diary entries are not disheartening stories about how her physical disability disables her. Instead, Alesia details how her life with a wheelchair has a few pitfalls.
Alesia writes how she meets those pitfalls and challenges with grit, determination, courage, and humor. For example, in response to boys who are timid about her disability, Alesia writes, “When guys find out that I can’t walk...it scares them off before they can get to know me, and I want them to know me first, know what kind of person I am, and then I’ll tell them about my disability.”
Imaginative plot: People with physical and mental disabilities and their allies bewail the lack of representation in fiction. The ignoring of people who may struggle with physical and mental limitations is especially exasperating because fiction is limitless. A writer’s mind could conjure up a host of characteristics that reflect a cornucopia of experiences.
Lesson plan: According to research, inclusive literature that “reflects the diversity of children’s life experiences” helps children feel safe and included. Writers can support this inclusivity by bringing to life characters without disabilities who share the gamut of experiences and emotions that humans encounter.
What fiction books have you read that depict people with physical challenges?
In your opinion, why are people with mental or physical disabilities often left out of fiction?
According to research, there are 5.8 million disabled children in America. What are some ways readers can demand that disabled people are properly and accurately represented in literature?
Dr. R. A. Slaughter’s (Doc) textbooks Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature, and Turning the Page: A Guide to Securing Multicultural Literature for Schools, both published by Rowman & Littlefield and available in all bookstores, have brought Doc global recognition. For more information, log onto drrachelslaughter.info, or email [email protected]
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