A publicist for Rhodes said she was unavailable to comment Monday.
“Our members feel that this book is propaganda that pushes an inaccurate and absurd stereotype of police officers in America,” Kempinski wrote.
Organizations that promote diversity in literature say such pushback against books that center on marginalized groups in their stories are not surprising, and that those objections deserve scrutiny. The most common factor across banned and challenged books is that the author is from a marginalized or underrepresented group or tells the story from the perspective of a character who is, said Alaina Lavoie, a spokesperson for the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books, which promotes diversity and representation in literature and awarded the book with its top prize in 2019.
It’s unclear when “Ghost Boys” was first introduced as a “supplementary fiction text” in at least two fifth-grade classrooms. Both Kempinski and the district declined to name which Coral Springs, Fla., elementary school had been teaching the book.
Kempinski learned of the book from a fellow lodge member whose child was assigned the reading in class and later spoke up about being uncomfortable with its subject matter. After reading “Ghost Boys” for himself, Kempinski concluded the novel gives young readers a prejudiced view of police as “liars” and “racists.”
“I think it really takes a very unfortunate and awful situation, where an officer uses deadly force, and makes it sound like something that all officers do daily,” he told The Post.
In the book, Jerome learns he can speak to the ghosts of other boys killed in racist incidents, like Emmett Till, whose 1955 lynching by White men in Mississippi sparked the civil rights movement. The only living person who can hear Jerome is Sarah, the daughter of the officer who shot him; she later learns through Jerome her father has lied about the shooting.
“Ghost Boys” had not gone through the district’s regular vetting process prior to the police complaint, which prompted the district to “pause” the use of the book pending review, Broward County School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood said in a statement to The Post.
Osgood’s office noted it had not heard complaints about the book prior to the police union’s letter. Since then, one parent wrote in with criticism while another urged the district to keep teaching the book.
Despite its industry accolades, the book was banned last year by a California school district over similar complaints.
Chicago Public Schools waged a similar battle after a historic police torture reparations ordinance passed in 2015. The ordinance made the history of how Chicago police systemically tortured more than 100 Black men and women over two decades part of the social studies curriculum for eighth- and 10th-graders.
After the curriculum took effect, parents predominantly from police enclaves in Northwest and far South Side Chicago neighborhoods were outraged and argued teaching about the history of police torture unfairly painted all police as bad and could open the children of police to ridicule.
Debates over how to teach school-aged children about subjects that invariably shape current events, like systemic racism and police violence, have grown increasingly fraught since George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer last year sparked a nationwide reckoning over racism. Plenty of efforts have met resistance, like the New York Times’s “1619 Project”; Conservative lawmakers in at least five states have sought to ban school curriculums based on the project, which aims to reexamine the role of slavery in U.S. history.
Kempinski said while he applauds the school district for taking on difficult topics like social justice, he thinks books like “Ghost Boys” increases division between police and the public.
“Police officers are not perfect,” Kempinski said. “But when you have a book like this and this kind of teaching, the message is, ‘don’t get involved with police and don’t have a dialogue with them.’ ”
He conceded that the book might be more appropriate for older students, but found it still overall inappropriate “for the false narratives and misleading statistics.”
Lavoie, with We Need Diverse Books, said questioning the age appropriateness of a book is one of the most common ways books are challenged and counters that “there are age-appropriate ways to talk about these topics.”
“The argument is always, ‘isn’t it too early to talk to kids about race, or gender or religious discrimination or sexual orientation?’ ” Lavoie said. “Even though research indicates kids form biases at a young age.”
Parents, she said, often argue that kids can learn about such difficult topics when they’re grown, which reinforces the idea that the subjects are taboo.
In a 2018 interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Rhodes, the author, said it was important that adults not “patronize” kids whom she said are “far more sophisticated and knowledgeable about inequities in the world.”
The author emphasized that her stories are meant to help young readers understand their world, including the core belief that they can change things for the better.
“Though I write about tough subjects, kids know that my stories are also infused with kindness, hope and, ultimately, it empowers them,” Rhodes said.