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FunTimes Magazine

The Reading Quilt: Ghost Boys

Feb 03, 2023 09:00AM ● By Dr. Rachel Slaughter

Violence against Black people at the hands of racists is an evil and nefarious aspect of American existence that Black people can not escape. This fact, and the visuals associated with it, are enough to break a Black person’s spirit. Studies show that a Black person can experience symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by simply viewing the crimes as headlining news or social media clips. To add salt to the wound, fleeting news coverage of the racial hate crimes decorated with social media hashtags further exacerbate the profound grief families, friends, and concerned citizens feel about the extinguishing of another human being by people who hate the color of Black skin. Unfortunately, despite the fervent cries that “Black Lives Matter,” racial crimes are rampant.

On a personal note, while I was reading Ghost Boys written by Jewell Parker Rhodes published in 2018 by Little, Brown, and Company, a question kept swirling in my mind: How would our country change if we were greeted by dead victims of white supremacists who returned as ghosts to nonviolently oppose racism? Would racial crimes dissipate? 

In some ways, the film “Till” gives Emmett Till’s spirit an opportunity to show the world how his beautiful life was snuffed out by white supremacists on August 28, 1955. Written by Michael Reilly, the movie is a biographical drama that depicts the Emmett Till tragic murder and the trauma his Mississippian mother Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley endured while keeping the memory of her 14-year-old son alive as she fought relentlessly for justice. Directed by Nigerian-American film director Chinonye Chukwu, Chukwu brought Till’s mother to life. She fought an impassioned fight for Till’s justice. Eager to speak truth to power, Emmett shows up in the book Ghost Boys as well.

  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 Q.U.I.L.T., Slaughter offers readers information about the Quality of writing, Universal theme, and Imaginative plot, a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise. This month, a middle grade literature book, which introduces readers to twelve-year-old Jerome Rogers is featured. Rogers, a victim of gun violence at the hands of a police officer, teams up with Emmett Till in the effort to change minds and save lives.

Jewell Parker Rhodes

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Jewell Parker Rhodes is a New York Times best seller, and the recipient of notable awards like The Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. Awarded by The Jane Addams Peace Association, “The Jane Addams Children's Book Award annually recognizes children's books of literary and aesthetic excellence that effectively engage children in thinking about peace, social justice, global community, and equity for all people.”


QUALITY: Perhaps as a stark symbol of the impending violence, the dust jacket is blood red. Designed by Marie Lawrence, it features the eyes of three Black boys, two are clearly vague and out of focus: Ghosts. Jumping between the two main realities of the book: a dead Jerome and a living Jerome, the book opens with Jerome’s mother and grandmother doting on him while pleading for him to “Come straight home” from school: Foreshadowing. In the effort to let loose for a second, Jerome, a conscientious boy who always makes good, sound decisions, decides to play with a shiny toy that will change his life forever. Shortly after his fantasy play, Jerome meets up with a couple of cool kids who promise to change the minds and hearts of mean spirited people. Rhodes does a tremendous job of making a complicated plot an easy to read novel. 

UNIVERSAL THEME: Jerome is a loving son, grandson, and brother. He is helpful, kind, and compassionate. Despite his amazing qualities and life on the straight and narrow, Jerome meets a tragic end as his life intersects with the police. It is this interaction where the reader is  shoved out of a loving close knit family into the cold, and frigid air where systemic racism awaits. This is a hellish place where grandma’s sweet pecks on the cheek and warm pancakes made with soft yet wrinkled Black hands don’t exist. It is a place filled with poisonous hate fueled by the biased thoughts and acts of small minded people. 

IMAGINATIVE STORY: Ghost Boy features a wonderful friendship and bond formed across cultural and physical differences in the face of racism. It is this friendship that helps heal racial trauma and change stubborn minds. It is the juxtaposition of Jerome’s warm and enveloping family abode and the mean streets of Chicago that creates an underlying tension or backdrop for Jerome’s unusual crew including Carlos, Sarah, Emmett, and hundreds of other boys whose lives were cut short by enthusiastic and lawless white supremacists.

LESSON PLAN: A lesson plan that encourages students to read about the lives and circumstances that led to the slaying of Black men by the police is a solid start to a lesson about racial profiling. Perhaps the lesson plan will conjure up the ghosts of the Black boys who lost their lives to the blue brotherhood: “A shadow. Then, another. And another. Another and another. Hundreds, thousands of ghost boys standing, ever still, looking up, through the window into our souls.”  The novel Ghost Boys and the motion picture Till is not the only novel or film that depicts the horrifying events that led to Emmett Till’s death. What’s more, Emmett Till is not the only person to become a fatal victim of bad, racist policing. A teacher will not run out of material for a lesson plan focused on Black victims of white supremacists.

TALKING POINTS: Ghost Boys is a story about how racists inflict racial trauma on people sometimes without consequence. This novel is sure to spark conversation among students in middle or high school. Gabrielle Daley, Lightlab Director at Friends’ Central School, says, “Ghost Boys encouraged the most thoughtful discussions I’ve ever had with my oldest son. It has really stuck with him through the years.” For talking points and additional resources, please visit “Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers” Educators’ Guide.

 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 or check out “The Reading Quilt” talk show on PhillyCam.

Read more from Dr. Rachel Slaughter:

Reading Quilt: The Song of the Trees

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The Reading Quilt: Dragons in a Bag

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 student... Read More »