Ghost Boys written by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Rhodes, J.P. (2018). Ghost Boys. Little, Brown and Company.
Category: Middle-grade Contemporary Fiction
Summary: Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot and killed by a white police officer while playing with a toy gun. As a ghost, he witnesses the emotional aftermath of his murder and realizes that “only the living can make the world better” (Rhodes, p. 203).
Themes: We must learn from the ghosts of our past if we hope to change the future.
Generalizations: family, friendship, racism, police brutality, social justice
Potential uses in the classroom: On the surface, Ghost Boys is a book about a young black boy killed by a white police officer. On a deeper level, Jerome’s story echoes the ongoing violence against blacks and, as such, can be used as a segue to discussions with young readers about racism and social justice. As Jerome says, “only the living can make the world better” (Rhodes, p. 203). Therefore, what is our collective responsibility to the ghosts of our country’s violent and tragic past that continue to haunt us? This book can also be used to explore the metaphor of ghosts. Jerome becomes a ghost when he is killed, but who in the story becomes ghost-like after his death? Finally, in terms of story structure and author intent, why does the story alternate between Jerome being alive and Jerome being dead? Why does the story begin with Jerome’s death? Who was Emmett Till and why is he a character in this story?
Melissa’s note: I chose Ghost Boys because I was curious how a children’s book would address the issue of a young black boy being shot and killed by a police officer. Even though this story is a work of fiction, violence against black people, even black children, sadly continues to be a relevant issue. As a parent and teacher, I believe we are obligated to speak openly about racism and social justice and challenge our students to make the world better.