Public School Superhero

Book review by
Barbara Lawrence, Common Sense Media
Public School Superhero Book Poster Image
Inner-city middle school tale is funny and compassionate.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

An easy read that will sustain the interest of a middle schooler. Gives a glimpse of the world of inner-city kids and schools. Shows what can happen when a community comes together to protest a school decision.

Positive Messages

Stand up for what you think is right. There are consequences for your behavior. Have compassion for tough guys -- there could be a painful reason why they act so tough.


Positive Role Models & Representations

Kenny's a good kid stuck in a decrepit inner-city school complete with bullies and checked-out teachers. He loves books, chess, and family -- a nice kid, who's tempted to break the rules to seem tougher. When that plan backfires, he figures out how to become less timid and learn to stand up for himself and his school while still keeping his integrity intact.


A backdrop of bullies, enormous eighth graders, and gangsters in a tough inner-city school. Most of the violence is suggested rather than actual, except for when bullies punch and jab Kenny in the kidney at school. He's also locked in his locker. Cartoons of Kenny's superhero alter ego Stainlezz Steel show him kicking and punching like a cartoon character. A character's tough brother goes to jail but it isn’t specifically explained why.


Name calling: Kenny's called "Grandma’s Boy" because he gets straight As and lives with his grandma. The strongest language is "butt."


The authors slip in Kindle Fire, iPad, PS Vita, but also plug great books like Harry Potter, The Giver, and Hatchet.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

No actual mention of drugs, just shady dudes exchanging money and Ziplock bags, so the readers gets the impression that there's drug dealing in the neighborhood. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Public School Superhero, by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, offers an insightful glimpse at life at a decrepit inner-city school. Readers will identify with "Grandma's Boy," as protagonist Kenny is known, as he struggles to survive bullies and ultimately finds compassion for some of them. Most of the violence is suggested rather than actual, except for when bullies punch and jab Kenny in the kidney at school, and he's also locked in his locker. Although it's implied that violence and drugs are part of Kenny's hood, it's not explicitly shown. Kenny makes some bad choices, but for the most part, he is a good kid trying to do what's right. Cory Thomas' action-packed cartoons of Kenny's superhero alter ego Stainlezz Steel -- who kicks and punches like a cartoon character and fights dragons and dodges teachers shown as dungeon keepers -- add another appealing dimension to this engaging story.  A great read for boys after Wimpy Kid. Kenny's African-American, his best friend is Asian, and they attend a predominantly black school, so Public School Superhero is also a good choice for families looking for books with diverse characters.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byWilliam S. April 2, 2018
Teen, 13 years old Written bykamari owens October 17, 2018


it a really good story that i think other kids like my can relate to well besides the superhero part

What's the story?

Kenny's starting middle school at an inner-city school in Washington, D.C. The teachers are burned out, and there's a constant revolving door of principals. Kenny tries to stay clear of bullies and the enormous eighth graders, but that isn't possible because he likes to read and play chess, which make him a target. He lives with his grandma, whose high standards are often in conflict with his life in school. When the school finally gets a principal who cares and starts to make changes, the school district moves her to another school. The community, led by Kenny's grandma, stages a protest to bring back its principal. 

Is it any good?

What could be a run-of-the-mill middle school story takes on a deeper dimension when Kenny is stuck teaching one of the bullies to play chess as a consequence for stealing. During their afternoons together, Kenny gets a glimpse into Ray-Ray's sad life and gains a more mature understanding of why his classmate acts the way he does.

Kenny's grandma is a strong positive influence in his life, along with Principal Yetty; the history of the civil rights movement embodied in these two powerful women. Cory Thomas' action-packed cartoons of Kenny's superhero alter ego Stainlezz Steel provide an insight into the fantasy world of a powerless middle school student.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why books about middle school so popular. What's challenging about that period in a kid's life?

  •  Why might kids lie to their parents? What was Kenny trying to avoid by not telling his grandma about detention?

  • What ways can kids protest bad things that affect their lives? How can the Internet help kids effect change?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love humor and books about middle school

Themes & Topics

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