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Tag Archives: juvenile fiction
I do read more age-appropriate books occasionally, I promise. But when my hold for The Labors of Hercules Beal became available, I tossed aside the mystery I was halfway through to dive into this instead. Whodunit? Who cares? Gary D. Schmidt is just that good.
If you have never read one of his middle-grade novels, start with The Wednesday Wars, or Okay for Now (both are available as Book Club Kits here at the Nebraska Library Commission!). If you are more familiar with Schmidt’s writing, this latest book will feel like coming home.
Hercules Beal is about to start 7th grade. But instead of joining his friends on the bus to the local public middle school, he will be walking to the Cape Code Academy for Environmental Sciences. He is not excited about this latest revelation, but not surprised. Over the last 18 months, it’s been nothing but bad news. He lost both of his parents in The Accident. His older brother Achilles reluctantly moved home, leaving his globe-trotting journalism career to run the Beal Family Farm and Nursery. His request for a pet dog was overruled in favor of a pet rabbit named “Honey Bunny.” Oh, and his new teacher this fall is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel. That’s a lot of rotten luck for a kid who hasn’t yet hit his Beal Family Growth Spurt.
But middle school begins, as sure as the sun rising over the dunes of Cape Cod, and Hercules does grow, both in his statute and in his understanding of what great possibilities life still has in store. Lt. Colonel Hupfer gives each student in his class a yearlong assignment based on a mythological topic. Our “hero” is tasked with performing the Twelve Labors of Hercules, or as close to them as he can manage. As he struggles through each labor, he receives help from some unexpected sources. Many things go wrong… so very, very (often hilariously) wrong! But many more go just heart-breakingly right.
That is my favorite aspect of Schmidt’s novels; how wonderfully he captures the ups and downs of adolescent life. He makes me laugh out loud, and then burst into tears in the next chapter. Will he have the same affect on actual adolescents? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I’m more susceptible to the tear-jerking scenes because I’ve already been through this part of life and I know how it turns out. But even if you are a 13 year old kid and you don’t cry when the [redacted so you can find out for yourself], I hope you can at least recognize that when Schmidt’s characters feel alone, but they are not actually alone; there are people looking out for them, cheering them on, ready to help when things get tough. And if you are well past middle school, as I am, I hope you can remember what those years were like, and keep an eye out for those kiddos that might need a supportive grownup in their corner.
Schmidt, Gary D. (2023). The Labors of Hercules Beal. Clarion Books.
The Nebraska Library Commission is excited to announce the 2024 titles selected for the One Book For Nebraska Kids & Teens program:
Wouldn’t it be great if kids all over Nebraska were talking about books? And wouldn’t it be even better if those kids were talking about the SAME book? Hold on to your bookmarks, the Nebraska Library Commission and Regional Library Systems have a program for that!
Each year, the One Book for Nebraska Kids & Teens program selects a title for kids (roughly grades 4-6) and teens (older readers) and encourages youth across the state to read and discuss the book together. Read more about the program, and see current and past selections here: http://nlc.nebraska.gov/Youth/OBOK/index.aspx
One Book For Nebraska Kids 2024:
Parachute Kids, by Betty Tang (Graphix, 2023).
A middle-grade graphic novel that follows Feng-Li and her siblings as they navigate life alone in a new country. After a fun-filled vacation in California, Mom and Dad announce that the family is staying and enroll the children in school. When their parents’ visas expire, the children are left in their rental house while their parents return to Taiwan to sort out a legal reentry to the United States.
One Book For Nebraska Teens 2024:
Between the Lines, by Nikki Grimes (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018).
This 2018 companion to Grimes’ Bronx Masquerade combines verse and prose to explore the thoughts, feelings, and struggles of a diverse class of poets as they prepare for their school poetry slam. In addition to honing their writing skills, they find friendship and support in each other.
The Nebraska Library Commission and each Regional Library System will have book sets for the 2023 and 2024 titles to check out to librarians and school media specialists for their book clubs. See our Book Club Kit page, or contact your regional library system directory for details.
Imagine being 12 years old and moving to a tiny Nebraska town with no internet, no TV, and no cell phone service. Heck, imagine being 40 and doing that! In this day and age, it’s almost unthinkable. Now imagine being famous for being the sole survivor of a mass shooting – also unthinkable – and needing a fresh start where no one has heard of you.
Simon and his parents move to Grin And Bear It, Nebraska, a small town set in the National Quiet Zone – a space where radio signals are banned as to not interfere with the operation of radio telescopes used by the astronomers and scientists searching for signs of life beyond our planet. His mother takes over the local mortuary, his father settles in as deacon of the Catholic church, and Simon just tries to resume life as a normal, anonymous kid. So far, so good – no one here can Google him. He can make up whatever goofy story he wants about why his family relocated.
Then disaster strikes. And keeps striking – a rogue squirrel ransacks the church’s communion wafers, a flock of emus get loose, the mortuary’s driver loses a body, a tornado bears down on the town… and someone finds out Simon’s secret. In the midst of his family getting all the wrong kinds of attention, Simon and his friends scheme a way to shift the focus from him to the stars, using a forbidden microwave, a metronome, and a whole lot of math.
Despite the devastating tragedy underlying the story, this was actually one of the most hilarious books I’ve read in a while. The author, originally from Iowa, lived in Nebraska for a time, and is familiar with the state’s geography and love of football. There is so much to love about Simon and his family and friends, as well as the odd little town they find themselves in. If you are looking for an entertaining read that will make you laugh AND cry, Simon says read this book!
Bow, Erin. (2023). Simon Sort of Says. Disney Hyperion.