Ghost Boys Cover Process

Over the summer I was asked to illustrate the cover of award winning author, Jewell Parker Rhodes’ latest book, Ghost Boys, here is a synopsis of the story:

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Initially I was given design comps of what they were thinking for the cover. Usually I am asked to read the story and come up with ideas on my own, but in this case, the design team already had a strong vision of what the cover might be.

First idea – Jerome’s sneakers in a puddle of water with his reflection left behind. Wrap around cover. This cover followed the same color scheme of Jewell’s book, Towers Falling.


Second idea – Jerome walking along a city street with large streetlights overhead. Jerome spins around as if being followed.

I loooved the first idea, but marketing wanted to push the second. Our final cover ended up being a flat horizon  and streetlights with Jerome’s hands stretched out in surprise. There were also a few interior drawings that were edited out. The author felt that it would be best to let the reader build their own characters instead of being influenced by artist interpretation. I agreed with that. It was difficult for me to to draw one specific character for Jerome.

After putting the cover to bed, my art director came back to say that marketing felt the cover was too dark and didn’t engage the reader. They wanted to go in a different direction showing a cropped portrait of the main character. I gave them what they asked for and tried sneaking in one other idea based on one of the interior drawings that we didn’t use.

In the end the final cover for Ghost Boys is below. The texture has been removed and the portrait is brighter and more prominent. I think the cover is striking. Many thanks to the team over at Little Brown for this fantastic opportunity.

Publication Date: April 17, 2018


  1. Colleen Kong-Savage
    March 1, 2018

    I love the final cover, bringing the reader close to the character, but still guided by the idea that the character isn’t limited by an artist’s interpretation. The red background hits closer to the emotional context of the story. The type is beautiful—I love the way the stoplights weave in and out of the title. The journey was worth it! I can’t wait to read the book.

    • shadrieka
      March 6, 2018

      Thanks! I’m glad you like it. I’m not unhappy with it. It’s just interesting to watch the ideas evolve. I hope you enjoy the book. It’s a powerful story.

      • Colleen Kong-Savage
        March 6, 2018

        Thank you for sharing the process. I enjoy seeing the evolution of ideas as well. The book sounds heartbreaking and important. I look forward to it.

  2. Pamela-Faith Jackson
    November 5, 2020

    Hello Ms. Shadrieka:
    I really appreciate reading this remarkable inside look at an illustrator’s process on a book that has meant so much to me and my elementary/middle school students. I am presently preparing for the virtual Georgia National Jr. BETA Club Convention Living Lit competition. My charge is to create a 1-minute recording of a montage from a selected scene from the book on Zoom. The book title and author must be visible, and so I combed the internet looking for every image I could find to help me illuminate a powerful moment. .I love the cover, but I also like the pix of the crowd scene under the streetlights and the one of Jerome with the night blue background.

    I never done Zoom theatre before, but after sharing your cover and a few pages of the book with my eager young actor/scholars yesterday at our Zoom practice, I am energized to present this book as our entry for 2020.

    I met Ms. Parker Rhodes on Facebook 2 years ago and she graciously sent a class set of her books for my 5th graders at the Title I school where I teach. We had an awesome book study capped off by a facetime visit from Ms. Rhodes. Students who never liked reading before loved this book. This continues to be an unbelievable journey of awakening and empowerment.


Leave a Reply