THE LABORS OF HERCULES BEAL, by Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion Books, May 23, 2023, Hardcover, $19.99 (ages 8-12)
A teen has to figure out how to perform the Twelve Labors of Hercules in real life in The Labors of Hercules Beal, by Gary D. Schmidt.
Herc Beal knows who he’s named after — a mythical hero — but he’s no superhero. He’s the smallest kid in his class. So, when his homeroom teacher at his new middle school gives him the assignment of duplicating the mythical Hercules’s amazing feats in real life, he’s skeptical. After all, there are no Nemean Lions on Cape Cod — and not a single Hydra in sight.
Missing his parents terribly and wishing his older brother wasn’t working all the time, Herc figures out how to take his first steps along the road that the great Hercules himself once walked. Soon, new friends, human and animal, are helping him. And though his mythical role model performed his twelve labors by himself, Herc begins to see that he may not have to go it alone. —Synopsis provided by Clarion Books
The Labors of Hercules Beal is the first of author Gary D. Schmidt’s books that I’ve read. But it won’t be the last. The award-winning author has penned more than 40 books for young people including Newbery Honor citations for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and The Wednesday Wars, and was a National Book Award finalist for Okay for Now, a novel that also won the Children’s Choice Award.
The hero of this tale is Herc — a kid whose voice rings true from Page 1. Herc’s life isn’t what he expected it to be, but he’s learning there’s more to it than he thought. And he’s got friends to help him along the way.
From the start, it’s clear that Schmidt knows his audience. He writes to them, not down to them, creating a sense of respect for the reader. Schmidt’s writing is lively with short sentences sprinkled throughout for emphasis. And though his book is about healing and empathy, you never feel like you’re “learning” a lesson.
The Labors of Hercules Beal is a strong contemporary middle-grade novel with a compelling male protagonist that should appeal to a good cross-section of readers.
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