Booktalk for GHOST BOYS by Jewell Parker Rhodes

When Jerome was alive, he kept his head low. He had troubles, but he didn’t get into trouble. There was a big difference.

He would walk his little sister to school – not too fast, like they were running, but not too slow, like they were daring someone to stop them. He avoided bullies at school by eating lunch in the restroom. He comforted his ma and grandma as best he could. Tried to help them not worry so much, especially his grandma. She kept having dreams—“premonitions,” she called them—about bad things happening.

Then Jerome dies. He’s a 12-year-old African American boy. A white police office shoots him at the park. The officer says later, “I had no choice. He had a gun.”

Even though Jerome is dead, he’s still around. He’s a ghost, invisible. He sees his body on the ground and the toy gun by his hand. He sees his ma, pa, grandma, sister, and his friend Carlos all dealing with his death in their own ways. But they don’t see him. No one can see him, except for Sarah, the daughter of the police officer who shot him.

Jerome doesn’t want to be dead. It’s not fair. And he doesn’t want this white girl he doesn’t even know to be the only one he can talk to. Then Jerome meets other ghost boys like himself, ones who died too young. From them, he begins to understand that only the living can make the world a better place—and right now Sarah, that girl, is his one connection to the living.

Genre: Contemporary fiction, magical realism

Grades 5-8.


Note: This script uses many near quotes from the text of the book.

Kept my head low.”  [Page 4]
“OFFICER: ‘I HAD NO CHOICE!’ […] Officer says, ‘He had a gun.'” [Page 5]
“I’ve got troubles but I don’t get in trouble. Big difference.” [Page 9]
“That’s my other job—comforting Ma and Grandma. Grandma worries the most. She has dreams. ‘Premonitions,’ she calls them. Worries about bad things happening.” [Page 11]
“We walk to school. Not too fast like we’re running; not too slow like we’re daring someone to stop us.” [Page 14]


Anna’s take on it:

This is a tremendously well-done book that opens up a hard topic to middle-grade audiences. And kids want to read it. I used it mainly with sixth grade classes, but also a few fifth grade classes. Even when I had groups that were distracted or chatty, the room would go absolutely silent when I got to the line, “A white police officer shoots him at the park.” Highly recommended.