A Schneider Family Award Honor Book for Middle Grade
From Newbery Medal honoree and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a hilarious, hopeful, and action-packed middle grade novel about the greatest young superhero you’ve never heard of, filled with illustrations by Raúl the Third!
Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!
But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.
All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting all the time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how.
Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.
Episode 1: How Stuntboy Became Stuntboy
Reading Group Guide
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Portico Reeves has a secret identity that only his best friend Zola knows about. As Stuntboy, he is the superhero who keeps all the other superheroes, and his fellow residents of Skylight Gardens (aka the Castle), safe. Lately, that means protecting Zola from their archnemesis, Herbert Singletary the Worst, learning to tame his own anxiety attacks (the Frets), and trying to keep his mother and father’s fighting (which always reminds him of an episode of Super Space Warriors) from turning into an Explosion of Great Magnitude.
1. What does Portico love about living in Skylight Gardens? What does the fact that he calls it “The Castle” suggest about how he feels about his home? What do you love most about the place where you live?
2. Look up the definition of community. Which part of the definition do you think describes the community that is created by the residents of Skylight Gardens? Give examples of specific ways that they demonstrate that they care and look out for each other.
3. Explain the types of situations that cause Portico to get a case of the Frets. Look closely at the way Jason Reynolds describes how Portico feels when he is anxious: Which parts of his body are affected when he has the Frets? How does your body feel when you are anxious, worried, or afraid? What helps Portico feel better when he gets the Frets? What helps you when you are anxious?
4. Describe Zola and Portico’s friendship. In your opinion, what makes them such good friends? How do they demonstrate that they care about each other? Choose a moment in the book when you think their friendship is particularly strong, and explain why you chose it. What do you think is the most important characteristic to look for in a friend?
5. Explain the difference between a hero and a superhero. Who are some of Portico’s heroes? Who do you know that you consider a hero? Explain why you think they are heroic. If you could choose, would you rather be a superhero or a regular hero?
6. Which superhero does Portico decide he wants to be? What does he choose as his superpower? What do his choices tell you in regard to what Portico cares about?
7. Why is Portico initially excited when his parents tell him they are getting two apartments? Why do you think he does not realize his parents are separating?
8. When Portico’s mother tells him to go see what Zola is up to “in the meantime,” he thinks she says, “the mean time.” Why is “the mean time” a good name for what is happening in Portico’s apartment? Using words that sound alike to suggest a different meaning is called a play on words or a pun. Look for other times when Jason Reynolds uses a play on words.
9. An allegory is a story that has more than one meaning, and in this book, the Super Space Warrior episodes can be read as an allegory for the conflict between Portico’s parents. Look up the meaning of the names “Mater” and “Pater.” How is this a clue to the allegorical meaning of Super Space Warriors? What words do the name of the show’s villains, the Irators, sound like when you say it out loud? How might Mater and Pater’s duty to protect the sun relate to Portico and his parents? If each show ended with someone telling what the moral of the story is, what do you think the moral of each of the Super Space Warriors episodes would be? How do the illustrations reinforce the allegorical connection between Mater and Pater and Mr. and Mrs. Reeves?
10. Why do you think Herbert Singletary was looking sad the first time Portico met him? Why do you think Herbert responded to Portico’s kindness by pushing him and calling him names when Portico was being nice to him?
11. What does a building superintendent do? Why do Zola and Portico conclude that the superintendent of Skylight Gardens is a superhero?
12. Why does Portico get into a physical fight with Herbert Singletary at the block party? What does his father say about whether or not it was okay for Portico to fight Herbert? What does his mother say? Who do you agree with?
13. What do Portico and Zola learn about Herbert’s family and what is behind the half door? When Zola tells her mother that Herbert hides in the room behind the half door, Mrs. Brawner says, “We’re all hiding from something.” Sometimes people hide from their true feelings. What feelings do you think Herbert is hiding by being mean? What feelings do you think Portico’s parents are hiding from when they act out in anger toward each other?
14. What event leads to Herbert becoming friends with Zola and Portico? Why do you think Portico is finally able to feel sad about his parents’ separation? How do his friends let him know that they will be there for him? Why do you think he decides not to run in and stop his parents from fighting this time?
15. When Portico’s parents fight over him, how does it make him feel? What does it mean to say that someone feels “torn” or “torn apart”? Have you ever felt this way? What helps Portico feel better? What helped you?
16. In the last section of the book, “The Final Word and Two Frights,” what does Portico realize about himself? What does he realize about all the things that were piling up and making him afraid?
17. This book ends with the words, “To be continued.” What do you hope happens next?
1. Portico and his best friend, Zola, imagine themselves and the other people who live in Skylight Gardens as superheroes, complete with special powers. If you could choose a secret superhero identity for yourself, who would you be? What would be your secret power? What would be your mission? Would you work alone (like Wonder Woman), with a partner (like Batman and Robin), or with a team (like the Avengers)? Create a comic strip about one of your superhero’s adventures.
2. Stuntboy, in the Meantime is structured as a series of episodes, each beginning with the Stuntboy theme song. Write complete lyrics for the theme song and make a recording of your song. You can use the tune of a song you already know or create your own music to go with your lyrics.
3. Zola teaches Portico about meditation and yoga, two practices that help people cultivate mindfulness and reduce anxiety. Research the benefits of practicing mindfulness, and work with a group to teach your class a breathing or other mindfulness exercise. Talk about how your body feels after you complete the exercise. How do you think you would feel if you practiced a mindfulness moment before you took a test or participated in a competition? How would you feel if you started and/or ended the day with a breathing exercise?
4. What can you tell about the way the plot of each Super Space Warriors episode is structured? How do they begin and end? What causes the conflicts in the episodes? Once you have analyzed the formula for Super Space Warriors, create a new episode that uses the same structure.
5. Try reading some of Stuntboy, in the Meantime out loud. What do you notice about the way the text sounds? Jason Reynolds uses figurative language when he writes, which you may recognize from reading poetry. Look for examples of internal rhyme, alliteration, similes, and metaphors. Divide your class into teams and search for other examples of poetic language in the book to see who can identify the most examples.
6. The residents of Skylight Gardens have created a community where everyone knows and cares about one another. When a school creates this type of community, we call it “school spirit,” and some schools even have a student government organization and/or a spirit club to help build community. Think about the things that create community for the residents of Skylight Gardens, and develop a plan inspired by the book to create more school spirit.
7. Zola’s mother says, “Life is just a TV show, and we’re all characters in it.” If your life was a TV show, what kind of show would you want it to be? In the style of Stuntboy, in the Meantime, write and illustrate a story that imagines one of your experiences as an episode of your own TV show.
8. Stuntboy, in the Meantime features numerous charts that provide instructions for how to do different things. What are your areas of expertise? Create a graphic chart that teaches others how to do something new and share it with your class.
9. Many of the items that Portico’s parents fight over have a symbolic value (in other words, they are connected to a memory or idea that makes them important to the owner). Discuss why each item that they fight over is important to both of them. Think about an object you own that has a symbolic value to you and write an essay that describes the object using sensory details and explains why it is important to you.
Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy in Florida.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Jason Reynolds is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a Newbery Award Honoree, a Printz Award Honoree, a two-time National Book Award finalist, a Kirkus Award winner, a UK Carnegie Medal winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award Winner, an Odyssey Award Winner and two-time honoree, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors and the Margaret A. Edwards Award. He was also the 2020–2022 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His many books include All American Boys (cowritten with Brendan Kiely); When I Was the Greatest; The Boy in the Black Suit; Stamped; As Brave as You; For Every One; the Track series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, and Lu); Look Both Ways; Stuntboy, in the Meantime; Ain’t Burned All the Bright (recipient of the Caldecott Honor) and My Name Is Jason. Mine Too. (both cowritten with Jason Griffin); and Long Way Down, which received a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor. His debut picture book, There Was a Party for Langston, won a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. He lives in Washington, DC. You can find his ramblings at JasonWritesBooks.com.
Raúl the Third is the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling Stuntboy, in the Meantime, by Jason Reynolds. He’s also a three-time Pura Belpré Award winner for ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market! and his Lowrider picture book series written by Cathy Camper, the first of which, Lowriders in Space, also won the Texas Bluebonnet. Raúl is also the author and illustrator of ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat and ¡Vamos! Let’s Cross the Bridge. His work centers around the contemporary Mexican American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. He’s also contributed to the SpongeBob Comics series. He lives outside of Boston.
Portico Reeves, secret alter ego Stuntboy, lives amid a lively, largely Black community at “the castle”—apartment building Skylight Gardens. As Portico, he navigates tense interactions with bully Herbert Singletary the Worst, the stress of his ever-fighting parents, and his own anxiety, or “frets.” As Stuntboy, meanwhile, his job is “keeping other superheroes safe, so they can save the world!” And he definitely has his hands full watching out for the castle’s various larger-than-life characters—rolling down the stairs for a neighbor who’s a “little wobbly,” taking a tumble in lieu of shoelace-obsessed Mr. Mister, and blowing salt-and-vinegar chip crumbs in his dad’s face to stop his parents’ fighting. Zola Brawner, best friend for 163 days, offers support, comparing Portico’s fighting parents to episodes of an in-universe television show, but his folks’ dismissals and descent into the “mean time” threaten to worsen the frets. From vibrant, comic book–style art with ample color by Elaine Bay to running gags and commercial breaks that balance serious moments, there’s plenty to enjoy about this engaging, high-energy collaboration by Raúl the Third (Strollercoaster) and Reynolds (Stamped).
– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW*, October 11, 2021
BCCB – Portico Reeves lives in “a giant castle . . . made from the glassiest glass and the brickiest bricks on Earth.” Skylight Gardens apartment, towering over the city and boasting “one hundred windows,” “at least a million steps,” and plenty of interesting neighbors, is pretty much all the residence a kid could want. Unfortunately, one particular occupant, Herbert Singletary, is out to make life miserable for Portico and his best friend, Zola. Fired up by their common passion for Super Space Warriors (and by Portico’s longing for a role in a superhero universe), the friends envision Portico as Stuntboy, a sort of caped guardian who does the physical dirty work of intervention so that superheroes will be safe. Stuntboy’s skills are needed now more than ever to defuse his parents’ fights over personal property as they prepare for a separation that’s obvious to everyone but Portico. …. [T]he presentation is successfully buoyed by the interplay of Portico’s overly literal tendencies (e.g., he understands “in the meantime” to allude to his parents’ “mean time” skirmishes) and by and by Raúl the Third’s ebullient digital illustrations, which shine as a love letter to working class urban life.
– BCCB, November 1, 2021
*"This ingeniously crafted illustrated novel offers a multifaceted and heartfelt take on the classic superhero story. Portico Reeves is a kid with a “secret secret”—he likes to think of himself as Stuntboy, a homegrown and self-styled superhero whose power is “making sure all the other heroes stay super. And safe. Supersafe.” The selfless Stuntboy protects the quirky and racially diverse cast of characters in his apartment building, particularly his own family members and his best friend Zola. Instead of super strength or flight, Stuntboy performs a variety of odd “stunts” to help others, which also lets him burn off some energy. When he is Stuntboy, the young hero isn’t affected by his anxiety, or “the frets,” which are made worse for Portico by his parents’ constant bickering and his relentless bullying by “Herbert Singletary the Worst.” In ten episodic chapters, Reynolds employs fast-paced, realistic dialogue loaded with wordplay and humor. .... Raúl the Third’s cartoon illustrations are integral, active components of the story....the art makes Portico’s world feel real and vibrant. Bay’s color work is invaluable, oscillating between pulsating palettes and subdued screentones. Keeping to the superhero tradition, the creators end on a cliffhanger, leaving readers with a promise of more adventures to come."
– The Horn Book, starred review
*"In this funny, action-packed graphic novel, readers are introduced to Portico Reeves (aka Stuntboy), a Black fourth-grader and superhero. As Portico tries to dodge Herbert's bullying and cope with his parents' constant arguing, Stuntboy swoops in to save his neighbors and, hopefully, his parents' marriage.
This easily accessible and hilarious graphic novel is broken up into short episodes interrupted by commercial breaks with helpful tips on stunts. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jason Reynolds (Track series) creates a text that makes for a quick and easy read and the accompanying digital illustrations by Raúl the Third (Strollercoaster) match the tone perfectly. Stuntboy, in the Meantime is a perfect book for seven- to 12-year-olds."
– Shelf Awareness, starred review
Awards and Honors
Audie Award Winner
CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
Volunteer State Book Award Nominee (TN)
Massachusetts Children's Book Award Nominee
Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
ALA Notable Children's Recording
Odyssey Honor for Audio
NYPL Best Books for Kids (Top Ten)
ALA Schneider Family Honor Book Award for Best Book for Middle Grade
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