The Labors of Hercules Beal

by Gary D Schmidt (Author)

Reading Level: 6th − 7th Grade

From award-winning author Gary D. Schmidt, a warm and witty novel in the tradition of The Wednesday Wars, in which a seventh grader has to figure out how to fulfill an assignment to perform the Twelve Labors of Hercules in real life--and makes discoveries about friendship, community, and himself along the way.

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.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
At once an epic journey toward self-discovery and a wonderfully entertaining yarn.


Starred Review
This memorable novel offers emotional honesty, wit, and a hard-won, heartening perspective.

Horn Book Magazine

Schmidt's narrative keeps readers engaged with action [and] humor.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 4-6—Every morning, Hercules Beal gets up to watch the sun rise over the ocean in "the most beautiful place on Earth," Truro, MA, on Cape Cod. The ritual is one the 12-year-old's few comforts since his parents' recent death in a car accident. His older brother Achilles is grieving, too, and has given up traveling the world writing for National Geographic to return home and run the family nursery business. The brothers' numbed coexistence gets a jolt when Hercules starts sixth grade at a new school with an ex-Marine for a teacher. Lt. Col. Daniel Hupfer's sensitivity—thinly veiled behind his steely exterior—leads him to assign Hercules a project to help the boy work through his grief. He must recreate and reflect on the 12 labors of his mythical namesake. The process helps Hercules realize that, like the classical hero, he has been to hell and back, but is still here and has something to live for. Herc's first-person narrative is sharp and funny, balancing the gravity of the issues he's struggling to overcome. Schmidt's use of run-on sentences may give grammar teachers fits but is very effective. The oceanfront setting is so powerfully visualized it's a character in itself and frequently drives the narrative. References to characters from Schmidt's previous books will please fans without distracting new readers. VERDICT This essential purchase will spark interest in classical mythology and encourage readers to reach out to others in times of stress. Like Hercules, they don't have to carry the sky by themselves.—Marybeth Kozikowski

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Reeling from his parents' sudden death in a car accident a year and a half ago, 12-year-old Hercules Beal lives with his older brother Achilles in Truro on Cape Cod, which Hercules calls "the most beautiful place on the planet." Achilles has reluctantly given up a journalism career to oversee the family business, now with the assistance of his girlfriend (per Hercules, "the Vampire"). After Hercules starts at a new school, his flinty humanities teacher--recently retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer--tasks the middle schooler with re-creating his mythological namesake's famed 12 labors. Initially skeptical about the classical mythology application project, Hercules slowly discovers occasions in his own life that loosely parallel the classical myths. By performing these tasks and growing close to people because of them, he develops a loving, vividly depicted community that presents opportunities for healing. Schmidt (Pay Attention, Carter Jones) employs his signature narrative style, balancing scenes of humor and affecting gravity through Hercules's droll narration ("You have to admit, that was pretty brave"), which nimbly springs from labor to labor. It's a moving hero's journey that serves as a reflection on the durability of mythology and the necessity of community. Characters cue as white. Ages 8-12. (May)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

In his wry and sometimes gripping story of working through grief, Schmidt gives us glorious sunrises seen from the dunes — where Hercules greets each day with a hello to his parents — and a year in the life of a nursery. — New York Times Book Review

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Clarion Books
Publication date
May 23, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV039060 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Friendship
JUV019000 - Juvenile Fiction | Humorous Stories
JUV039140 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance
JUV022020 - Juvenile Fiction | Legends, Myths, & Fables | Greek & Roman
JUV039020 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Adolescence
Library of Congress categories
Middle schools

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