Friday, May 26, 2023

The Labors of Hercules Beal

Schmidt, Gary. The Labors of Hercules Beal
May 23, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hercules Beal lives on Cape Cod, and his brother Achilles has come back from Washington, D.C. to run the Beal Brothers Farm and Nursery after the tragic deaths of their parents. Because the farm is outside town, and school busing has changed, Hercules is attending the Cape Cod Academy for Environmental Sciences instead of going in Truro Middle School. It's a short walk away across a beautiful coastal landscape, but Hercules is apprehensive about his teacher, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer (Danny from The Wednesday Wars). Hupfer believes in a disciplined classroom, and assigns a long term assignment, a Classical Mythology Application Project. Because of his names, Hercules is supposed to try to replicate the twelve labors of Hercules in his own life, and write a reflection on them for Hupfer. This is sometimes hard to do, but as the year goes on and the nursery and school are faced with weather challenges and other difficulties, Hercules manages to do a decent job at this. He occasionally gets in trouble, and is at odds with their new neighbor Mr. Moby, who doesn't want Herrcules' new dog, Mindy, peeing on his yard. After storms ravage the coast, even knocking a neighbor's house down completely and almost killing his wife, Hercules' school moves into one of the barns on the farm, which at least gives him the chance to perform his own version of cleaning the Augean Stables! There are some adventures, such as driving to Ohio with his brother's girlfriend, Viola, whom he fancies might be a vampire, in order to pick up a plant order. Both Beals miss their parents, and we see some flashbacks to earlier days when the family was happy together. When Achilles decides to marry Viola, who is going to have to move away from Cape Cod in order to attend medical school, he needs to leave the farm in Hercules' hands so he can travel to Hawaii to meet Viola's parents. There is some help running the store, but Hercules has his work cut out for him with keeping things running. Even though he is strict, Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer is helpful, and Hercules gets assistance from others as well. Does he have enough of a community to support him when tragedy arises?
Strengths: This was not as traumatizing as Just Like That, but has a similar East Coast setting and introspective tone. Bonus points for including a grown up version of a character from a book set in the 1960s! Lieutenant Colonel Hupfer was definitely my favorite character, and he clearly learned a lot from his teacher, Mrs. Baker. This is a fairly short book, but is packed with a lot of things, including a ton of mythological references taken right from Edith Hamilton's Mythology. There were also some interesting facts about the biodiversity of flora and fauna on Cape Cod. Mindy was a great fictional dog!
Weaknesses: I'm never a fan of dead middle grade parents, and losing both his mother and his father certainly made it hard for Hercules to move forward in his life. The tone was a bit disconnected, maybe to reflect Hercules' grief. 
What I really think: Schmidt's books do not circulate well in my library. I haven't bought them all, but the ones I have bought (The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, and First Boy) are just not books my students pick up. I will probably pass on purchase, but I know that all the other librarians and teachers will love this one. If a teacher requests it, I'll buy it. 
Ms. Yingling

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