The Labors of Hercules Beal

The Labors of Hercules Beal

There’s a right time for the right book. The time for this book is now. Read­ing it, you can­not help feel­ing hope­ful. With even more than his usu­al artistry, Gary D. Schmidt has writ­ten a book that is fun­ny and sad and def­i­nite­ly hopeful.

There are gut-wrench­ing, heart-stop­ping scenes that will find you gasp­ing, rush­ing to turn the page, and yet close­ly savor­ing each word and phrase.

We are many of us com­ing to real­ize how essen­tial com­mu­ni­ty is, whether it’s friends, a neigh­bor­hood, fam­i­ly, or a vil­lage. The peo­ple who show up are price­less. The Labors of Her­cules Beal is a book about show­ing up.

Her­cules Beal, who talks direct­ly to the read­er, has expe­ri­enced great loss. He and his old­er broth­er, Achilles, are work­ing long hours to keep their family’s nurs­ery going. Her­cules is start­ing sev­enth grade at a new school, The Cape Cod Acad­e­my for Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences. (I want to attend! Cool school.) But Her­cules feels iso­lat­ed, not at all sure he wants to be there.

His home room teacher assigns an eight-month, indi­vid­ual study project. For Her­cules, it is to expe­ri­ence the twelve labors of the mytho­log­i­cal Her­cules and write short essays about each one. Where will he find a Hydra or a Nemean Lion on Cape Cod?

As Her­cules moves through the year, oppor­tu­ni­ties present them­selves for him to con­front some big chal­lenges, his own labors. Through the myths and his essays and the com­men­tary of his teacher, Her­cules comes to under­stand more about him­self. He makes unex­pect­ed friends. He gains two new pets in unusu­al ways. He learns more about his brother.

The char­ac­ters in this book reveal them­selves slow­ly … and as we learn more about them, I found myself want­i­ng to move into the neigh­bor­hood. Lieu­tenant Colonel Hupfer, Her­cules’ home­room teacher, and Vio­la, his brother’s girl­friend who might be a vam­pire, and Mr. Moby the crab­by bus dri­ver, and Mindy, his dog … they are just a few of the well-defined and fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters. I’d like to read a book about each one of them.

There is a dis­cus­sion of anger in the book that will change my life mov­ing for­ward. Good job, author.

The Labors of Her­cules Beal has one of the best lines about what it means to be a teacher. I’m not going to quote it here because I want you to feel the same warmth I did when I read it in the book.

This is a book for now, for every­one aged eight and old­er. I saw many com­ments from adults online who loved the book even though it was writ­ten for chil­dren (will we ever stop lim­it­ing these books in this way?). I believe it is a per­fect read-aloud that will make minds think and hearts sing.

Oh boy oh boy.

The Labors of Her­cules Beal
writ­ten by Gary D. Schmidt
Clar­i­on Books, 2023
Sug­gest­ed for ages 8 and up
ISBN 978−0−358−65963−1

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Karen Cushman
1 month ago

I’m on it! Thanks for the sug­ges­tion and the love­ly review.

Heidi Hammond
Heidi Hammond
1 month ago

I loved this book. It might be my favorite Gary Schmidt book, but I’ve loved all his books. What’s not to love? Thanks for bring­ing it to the atten­tion of all Bookol­o­gy subscribers.

1 month ago

I love Gary Schmidt’s books! Thanks for the head­’s up – it’s in my library and I’m going tomor­row to get it. I need to fig­ure out my anger, too …