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