Moving Historical Fiction
Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This is a hard book to read through your tears. As soon as 12-year-old Jerome is shot and killed by a white police officer in Chicago who mistakes Jerome's toy gun for a real one (but that's not the whole story -- keep reading), the tears start flowing. The parallels to the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio are explicit, although the story is historical fiction.
Jerome makes a friend at school, Carlos, who pulls out a "gun" on the school bullies who attack them in the restroom. It turns out the gun is a fake, a toy, but it looks real. Carlos offers it to Jerome to play with, run around outside his apartment on a beautiful day, pretending and having fun with his little sister outside.
It ends so badly, and at first Jerome can't make sense of it. He begins haunting Sarah, the daughter of the police officer who shot and killed him. She can see him and talk to him and they learn from each other. The ghost of Emmett Till guides Jerome on his journey to discovering how historical racism led to his death and the deaths of so many other ghost boys -- a legion killed because of prejudice and racism.
I especially loved and appreciated how the story ended.
This is a powerful narrative, and there's a powerful free educator's guide to accompany it, as well, developed in collaboration with the author and Boogie Down Books.
This is not your typical free teaching guide. It's FULL of great teaching methods, resources and links. It features several close reading questions for pivotal scenes, author's craft, characterization, historical and literary allusions. There are historical links to key Civil Rights references in the book, such as Emmett Till's death, the Children's Crusade of 1963, the Sit-Ins, and the Movement for Black Lives.
The back of the book features 16 discussion questions, an afterword about Emmett Till, a note about why she incorporated the Day of the Dead into the work, and the significance of bearing witness.
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