Rocket Boys: A Memoir (aka October Sky)

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Overview

"Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn't know my home town was at war with itself over its children, and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives. I didn't know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night. And I didn't know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added. The other boys discovered their own truths when we built

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Rocket Boys: A Memoir (aka October Sky)

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Overview

"Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn't know my home town was at war with itself over its children, and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives. I didn't know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night. And I didn't know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added. The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine."

So begins Homer "Sonny" Hickam Jr.'s extraordinary memoir of life in Coalwood, West Virginia-a hard-scrabble little company town where the only things that mattered were coal mining and high school football. But in 1957, after the Soviet satellite Sputnik shot across the Appalachian sky, Sonny and his teenaged friends decided to do their bit for the U.S. space race by building their own rockets—and Coalwood, Sonny and A powerful story of growing up and of getting out, of a mother's love and a father's fears, Homer Hickam's memoir Rocket Boys proves, like Angela's Ashes and Russell Baker's Growing Up before it, that the right storyteller and the right story can touch readers' hearts and enchant their souls.

In a town where the only things that mattered were coal-mining and high-school football, where the future was regarded with more fear than hope, a young man watched the Soviet satellite Sputnik race across the West Virginia sky—and soon found his future in the stars. In 1957, Homer H. "Sonny" Hickam, Jr., and a handful of his friends were inspired to start designing and launching the home-made rockets that would change their lives and their town forever.

Looking back after a distinguished NASA career, Hickam shares the story of his youth, taking readers into the life of the little mining town of Coalwood and the boys who would come to embody its dreams. Step by step, with the help (and occasional hindrance) of a collection of unforgettable characters, the boys learn not only how to turn scrap into sophisticated rockets that fly miles into the sky, but how to sustain their dreams as they dared to imagine a life beyond its borders in a town that the postwar boom was passing by.

Rocket Boys has already caught the eye of Hollywood: The producer of Field of Dreams is now working to produce a major motion picture in time for next year's Academy Awards.

A uniquely endearing story with universal themes of class, family, coming of age, and the thrill of discovery, Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys is evocative, vivid storytelling at its most magical.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Mankind has looked to the heavens for inspiration since time immemorial, but Homer H. Hickam Jr. was one of the first to be inspired by a man-made object soaring above the atmosphere. It was the Russian satellite Sputnik, making its way across the West Virginia sky in 1957, that moved him to escape the gloom of his coal-mining hometown for a distinguished career at NASA. In his delightful memoir, Rocket Boys, Hickam recalls with fondness his boyhood in Coalwood, West Virginia, and the exciting promise that a life spent building rocket ships held for him.
From the Publisher
"[T]horoughly charming....Hickam builds a story of overcoming obstacles that is worthy of Frank Capra...[in its]...eloquent evocation of a lost time and place."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

“A thoroughly charming memoir ... [An] eloquent evocation of a lost time and place.”—New York Times

“A stirring tale that offers something unusual these days ... a message of hope in an age of cynicism.”—San Diego Union-Tribune

“A great read ... One closes the book with an immense feeling of satisfaction.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Library Journal
Few boys escaped the coal mining towns of West Virginia of the 1950s without football scholarships, but Hickam and his friends sought a way. Inspired by the space race, they built and launched a series of rockets, dreaming they would earn scholarships to study to be aerospace engineers. Winning community support was easier than getting a father’s approval. Hickam re-creates an exciting time in American history in this first of three memoirs. (LJ 11/1/98)

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

James R. Gaines
. . .[W]hatever its flaws, it's a good bet this is the story as he told it to himself. It is a lovely one, and in the career of Homer H. Hickam Jr., who prevailed over the facts of his life to become a NASA engineer. . .that made all the difference.
The New York Times Book Review
Bruce Watson
Many a memoir has but one story to tell&#151the author's own. But Hickham's is the tale of a town caught between the old technology and the new....His memoir honoring both earthbound miners and their sons who gazed into space is required reading for understanding the American Dream. -- Smithsonian Magazine
Stephen Blanchard
Rocket Boys is sometimes an uncomfortable blend of fiction and faction, but the real weight of the book lies not with Homer's struggle for altitude, interesting though it is, but in his awkward love for his father and for Coalwood, with its doomed mines and railyards. -- Literary Review
From The Critics
This nostalgic memoir chronicles the rocket launching adventures of Homer Hickam and his friends during their teenage years in Coalwood, West Virginia, in the 1950s. Inspired by the historic Soviet Sputnik launch in 1957, Hickam and his self-proclaimed Big Creek Missile Agency decided to launch a rocket into space. Unbeknowst to them, this seemingly harmless pursuit changes a destiny bound for a life of laboring in Coalwood's bituminous coal mines. Hickam would, in fact, grow up to be a pioneering NASA engineer at the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Hickam's plain-spoken narrative captures the wide-eyed innocence of the era and draws the reader into a world of boyhood friendships, school-girl crushes and adolescent dreams. Coalwood, an impoverished small town where a promising future consisted of issuing a young boy a mining hat upon high-school graduation, however, is a less than idyllic place for dreams. Instead it serves as a reminder of the author's youthful yearning for a brighter future. In Hickam's teenage world, characters are observed through idle talk or the occasional encounter, emotions are distant curiosities, and glimpses of life in the 1950s are only frames of reference. This is neither a famous astronaut's autobiography nor a dramatic portrayal of life in Cold War America. It's simply a true-life adventure that tickles the imagination while it evokes a more idealistic time.
— William Travis
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Great memoirs must balance the universal and the particular. Too much of the former makes it overly familiar; too much of the latter makes readers ask what the story has to do with them. In his debut, Hickam, a retired NASA engineer, walks that line beautifully. On one level, it's the story of a teenage boy who learns about dedication, responsibility, thermodynamics and girls. On the other hand, it's about a dying way of life in a coal town where the days are determined by the rhythms of the mine and the company that controls everything and everybody. Hickam's father is Coalwood, W.Va.'s mine superintendent, whose devotion to the mine is matched only by his wife's loathing for it. When Sputnik inspires "Sonny" with an interest in rockets, she sees it not as a hobby but as a way to escape the mines. After an initial, destructive try involving 12 cherry bombs, Sonny and his cronies set up the Big Creek Missile Agency (BCMA). From Auk I (top altitude, six feet), through Auk XXXI (top altitude, 31,000 feet), the boys experiment with nozzles, fins and, most of all, fuel, graduating from a basic black powder to "rocket candy" (melted potassium chlorate and sugar) to "Zincoshine" (zinc, sulfur, moonshine). But Coalwood is the real star, here. Teachers, clergy, machinists, town gossips, union, management, everyone become co-conspirators in the BCMA's explosive three-year project. Hickam admits to taking poetic license in combining characters and with the sequence of events, and if there is any flaw, it's that the people and the narrative seem a little too perfect. But no matter how jaded readers have become by the onslaught of memoirs, none will want to miss the fantastic voyage of BCMA, Auk and Coalwood.
Library Journal
Hickam recalls his distinguished NASA career, which all started when he read about Sputnik as a little boy and began designing and launching homemade rockets.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
A story of overcoming obstacles worthy of Frank Capra. . . .Thoroughly charming. . .an eloquent evocation of a lost time and place. . .A touching memoir which makes a dark and threatening place seem as golden as the dawn of a promising new life.
-- The New York Times
James R. Gaines
. . .[W]hatever its flaws, it's a good bet this is the story as he told it to himself. It is a lovely one, and in the career of Homer H. Hickam Jr., who prevailed over the facts of his life to become a NASA engineer. . .that made all the difference.
-- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
This straightforward, unselfconscious memoir is set in Coalwood, West Virginia, where the author was 14 years old in 1957, the son of the local mine superintendent. Hickam divides his life in West Virginia into two phases—before and after the October 1957 launching of the Soviet Sputnik satellite. Hickam Sr., a straight company man, despised the Russian Communists and saw his budding scientist-son as a future mining engineer, but his son had other plans. After reading all about rockets in Life magazine, Homer Jr., a disciple of the esteemed U.S. engineer and Cape Canaveral team leader Wernher von Braun, decided to build a rocket of his own. Hickam satisfies in his characterization of his rocketeer cohorts, including the brains behind the operation, the school nerd, whose jet-black hair 'looked as if it had been plastered down with about a quart of Wildroot Cream Oil.' After several mishaps in town with their dangerous steel missile projectiles, the boys set up a rocket center on an old dump site and called it Cape Coalwood, complete with a cement launch pad and a 'blockhouse,' or building for the rocketeers' protection, made of scavenged wood and tin. The author and his friends are adept at breaking things, including his mother's rose garden fence and bathroom scale, but when they break the one-mile barrier in their launches, the entire town has to take them seriously. Hickam admits in an author's note to having used a certain license in telling his story. This seems evident in its idealization of his mother and her near-religious insistence that her son not follow her husband into the mines. A simple small-town story of larger-than-life dreams, in the vein of Rinker Buck'srecent coming-of-age adventure, Flight of Passage(1997). Heavy on '50s nostalgia, invoking song lyrics throughout and portraying the era's inhibition of sexual relations among young people.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385333207
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 502,234
  • Product dimensions: 5.59 (w) x 8.27 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Homer Hickam

Homer H. Hickam, Jr., was born and raised in Coalwood, West Virginia. The author of Torpedo Junction, a Military History Book of the Month Club selection, as well as numerous articles for such publications as Smithsonian Air and Space and American History Illustrated, he is a NASA payload training manager for the International Space Program and lives in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Read an Excerpt

Coalwood

Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn't know my hometown was at war with itself over its children and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives. I didn't know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night. And I didn't know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added. The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine.

Coalwood, West Virginia, where I grew up, was built for the purpose of extracting the millions of tons of rich, bituminous coal that lay beneath it. In 1957, when I was fourteen years old and first began to build my rockets, there were nearly two thousand people living in Coalwood. My father, Homer Hickam, was the mine superintendent, and our house was situated just a few hundred yards from the mine's entrance, a vertical shaft eight hundred feet deep. From the window of my bedroom, I could see the black steel tower that sat over the shaft and the comings and goings of the men who worked at the mine.

Another shaft, with railroad tracks leading up to it, was used to bring out the coal. The structure for lifting, sorting, and dumping the coal was called the tipple. Every weekday, and even on Saturday when times were good, I could watch the black coal cars rolling beneath the tipple to receive their massive loads and then smoke-spouting locomotives straining to pull them away. All through the day, the heavy thump of the locomotives' steam pistons thundered down our narrow valleys, the town shaking to the crescendo of grinding steel as the great trains accelerated. Clouds of coal dust rose from the open cars, invading everything, seeping through windows and creeping under doors. Throughout my childhood, when I raised my blanket in the morning, I saw a black, sparkling powder float off it. My socks were always black with coal dirt when I took my shoes off at night.

Our house, like every house in Coalwood, was company-owned. The company charged a small monthly rent, automatically deducted from the miners' pay. Some of the houses were tiny and single-storied, with only one or two bedrooms. Others were big two-story duplexes, built as boardinghouses for bachelor miners in the booming 1920's and later sectioned off as individual-family dwellings during the Depression. Every five years, all the houses in Coalwood were painted a company white, which the blowing coal soon tinged gray. Usually in the spring, each family took it upon themselves to scrub the exterior of their house with hoses and brushes.

Each house in Coalwood had a fenced-off square of yard. My mother, having a larger yard than most to work with, planted a rose garden. She hauled in dirt from the mountains by the sackful, slung over her shoulder, and fertilized, watered, and manicured each bush with exceeding care. During the spring and summer, she was rewarded with bushes filled with great blood-red blossoms as well as dainty pink and yellow buds, spatters of brave color against the dense green of the heavy forests that surrounded us and the gloom of the black and gray mine just up the road.

Our house was on a corner where the state highway turned east toward the mine. A company-paved road went the other way to the center of town. Main Street, as it was called, ran down a valley so narrow in places that a boy with a good arm could throw a rock from one side of it to the other. Every day for the three years before I went to high school, I got on my bicycle in the morning with a big white canvas bag strapped over my shoulder and delivered the Bluefield Daily Telegraph down this valley, pedaling past the Coalwood School and the rows of houses that were set along a little creek and up on the sides of the facing mountains. A mile down Main was a large hollow in the mountains, formed where two creeks intersected. Here were the company offices and also the company church, a company hotel called the Club House, the post office building, which also housed the company doctor and the company dentist, and the main company store (which everybody called the Big Store). On an overlooking hill was the turreted mansion occupied by the company general superintendent, a man sent down by our owners in Ohio to keep an eye on their assets. Main Street continued westward between two mountains, leading to clusters of miners' houses we called Middletown and Frog Level. Two forks led up mountain hollows to the "colored" camps of Mudhole and Snakeroot. There the pavement ended, and rutted dirt roads began.

At the entrance to Mudhole was a tiny wooden church presided over by the Reverend "Little" Richard. He was dubbed "Little" because of his resemblance to the soul singer. Nobody up Mudhole Hollow subscribed to the paper, but whenever I had an extra one, I always left it at the little church, and over the years, the Reverend Richard and I became friends. I loved it when he had a moment to come out on the church porch and tell me a quick Bible story while I listened, astride my bike, fascinated by his sonorous voice. I especially admired his description of Daniel in the lions' den. When he acted out with bug-eyed astonishment the moment Daniel's captors looked down and saw their prisoner lounging around in the pit with his arm around the head of a big lion, I laughed appreciatively. "That Daniel, he knew the Lord," the Reverend summed up with a chuckle while I continued to giggle, "and it made him brave. How about you, Sonny? Do you know the Lord?"

I had to admit I wasn't certain about that, but the Reverend said it was all right. "God looks after fools and drunks," he said with a big grin that showed off his gold front tooth, "and I guess he'll look after you too, Sonny Hickam." Many a time in the days to come, when I was in trouble, I would think of Reverend Richard and his belief in God's sense of humor and His fondness for ne'er-do-wells. It didn't make me as brave as old Daniel, but it always gave me at least a little hope the Lord would let me scrape by.

The company church, the one most of the white people in town went to, was set down on a little grassy knob. In the late 1950's, it came to be presided over by a company employee, Reverend Josiah Lanier, who also happened to be a Methodist. The denomination of the preacher the company hired automatically became ours too. Before we became Methodists, I remember being a Baptist and, once for a year, some kind of Pentecostal. The Pentecostal preacher scared the women, hurling fire and brimstone and warnings of death from his pulpit. When his contract expired, we got Reverend Lanier.

I was proud to live in Coalwood. According to the West Virginia history books, no one had ever lived in the valleys and hills of McDowell County before we came to dig out the coal. Up until the early nineteenth century, Cherokee tribes occasionally hunted in the area, but found the terrain otherwise too rugged and uninviting. Once, when I was eight years old, I found a stone arrowhead embedded in the stump of an ancient oak tree up on the mountain behind my house. My mother said a deer must have been lucky some long ago day. I was so inspired by my find that I invented an Indian tribe, the Coalhicans, and convinced the boys I played with—Roy Lee, O'Dell, Tony, and Sherman—that it had really existed. They joined me in streaking our faces with berry juice and sticking chicken feathers in our hair. For days afterward, our little tribe of savages formed raiding parties and conducted massacres throughout Coalwood. We surrounded the Club House and, with birch-branch bows and invisible arrows, picked off the single miners who lived there as they came in from work. To indulge us, some of them even fell down and writhed convincingly on the Club House's vast, manicured lawn. When we set up an ambush at the tipple gate, the miners going on shift got into the spirit of things, whooping and returning our imaginary fire. My father observed this from his office by the tipple and came out to restore order. Although the Coalhicans escaped into the hills, their chief was reminded at the supper table that night that the mine was for work, not play.

When we ambushed some older boys—my brother, Jim, among them—who were playing cowboys up in the mountains, a great mock battle ensued until Tony, up in a tree for a better line of sight, stepped on a rotted branch and fell and broke his arm. I organized the construction of a litter out of branches, and we bore the great warrior home. The company doctor, "Doc" Lassiter, drove to Tony's house in his ancient Packard and came inside. When he caught sight of us still in our feathers and war paint, Doc said he was the "heap big medicine man." Doc set Tony's arm and put it in a cast. I remember still what I wrote on it: Tony—next time pick a better tree. Tony's Italian immigrant father was killed in the mine that same year. He and his mother left and we never heard from them again. This did not seem unusual to me: A Coalwood family required a father, one who worked for the company. The company and Coalwood were one and the same.

I learned most of what I knew about Coalwood history and my parents' early years at the kitchen table after the supper dishes were cleared. That was when Mom had herself a cup of coffee and Dad a glass of milk, and if they weren't arguing about one thing or the other, they would talk about the town and the people in it, what was going on at the mine, what had been said at the last Women's Club meeting, and, sometimes, little stories about how things used to be. Brother Jim usually got bored and asked to be excused, but I always stayed, fascinated by their tales.

Mr. George L. Carter, the founder of Coalwood, came in on the back of a mule in 1887, finding nothing but wilderness and, after he dug a little, one of the richest seams of bituminous coal in the world. Seeking his fortune, Mr. Carter bought the land from its absentee owners and began construction of a mine. He also built houses, school buildings, churches, a company store, a bakery, and an icehouse. He hired a doctor and a dentist and provided their services to his miners and their families for free. As the years passed and his coal company prospered, Mr. Carter had concrete sidewalks poured, the streets paved, and the town fenced to keep cows from roaming the streets. Mr. Carter wanted his miners to have a decent place to live. But in return, he asked for a decent day's work. Coalwood was, after all, a place for work above all else: hard, bruising, filthy, and sometimes deadly work.

When Mr. Carter's son came home from World War I, he brought with him his army commander, a Stanford University graduate of great engineering and social brilliance named William Laird, who everyone in town called, with the greatest respect and deference, the Captain. The Captain, a big expansive man who stood nearly six and a half feet tall, saw Coalwood as a laboratory for his ideas, a place where the company could bring peace, prosperity, and tranquillity to its citizens. From the moment Mr. Carter hired him and placed him in charge of operations, the Captain began to implement the latest in mining technology. Shafts were sunk for ventilation, and as soon as it was practical, the mules used to haul out the coal from the mine were replaced by electric motors. Later, the Captain stopped all the hand digging and brought in giant machines, called continuous miners, to tear the coal from its seams. The Captain expanded Mr. Carter's building program, providing every Coalwood miner a house with indoor plumbing, a Warm Morning stove in the living room, and a coal box the company kept full. For the town's water supply, he tapped into a pristine ancient lake that lay a thousand feet below. He built parks on both ends of the town and funded the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, Cub Scouts, and the Women's Club. He stocked the Coalwood school library and built a school playground and a football field. Because the mountains interfered with reception, in 1954 he erected an antenna on a high ridge and provided one of the first cable television systems in the United States as a free service.

Although it wasn't perfect, and there was always tension between the miners and the company, mostly about pay, Coalwood was, for a time, spared much of the violence, poverty, and pain of the other towns in southern West Virginia. I remember sitting on the stairs in the dark listening to my father's father—my Poppy—talk to Dad in our living room about "bloody Mingo," a county just up the road from us. Poppy had worked there for a time until a war broke out between union miners and company "detectives." Dozens of people were killed and hundreds were wounded in pitched battles with machine guns, pistols, and rifles. To get away from the violence, Poppy moved his family first to Harlan County, Kentucky, and then, when battles erupted there, to McDowell County, where he went to work in the Gary mine. It was an improvement, but Gary was still a place of strikes and lockouts and the occasional bloody head.

In 1934, when he was twenty-two years old, my father applied for work as a common miner with Mr. Carter's company. He came because he had heard that a man could make a good life for himself in Coalwood. Almost immediately, the Captain saw something in the skinny, hungry lad from Gary—some spark of raw intelligence, perhaps—and took him as a protégé. After a couple of years, the Captain raised Dad to section foreman, taught him how to lead men and operate and ventilate a mine, and instilled in him a vision of the town.

After Dad became a foreman, he convinced his father to quit the Gary mine and move to Coalwood, where there was no union and a man could work. He also wrote Elsie Lavender, a Gary High School classmate who had moved on her own to Florida, to come back to West Virginia and marry him. She refused. Whenever the story was told, Mom took over at this point and said the letter she next received was from the Captain, who told her how much Dad loved her and needed her, and would she please stop being so stubborn down there in the palm trees and come to Coalwood and marry the boy? She agreed to come to Coalwood to visit, and one night at the movies in Welch, when Dad asked her to marry him again, she said if he had a Brown Mule chewing tobacco wrapper in his pocket, she'd do it. He had one and she said yes. It was a decision that I believed she often regretted, but still would not have changed.

Poppy worked in the Coalwood mine until 1943, when a runaway mine car cut off both his legs at the hip. He spent the rest of his life in a chair. My mother said that after the accident, Poppy was in continuous pain. To take his mind off it, he read nearly every book in the County Library in Welch. Mom said when she and Dad visited him, Poppy would be hurting so much he could hardly talk, and Dad would agonize over it for days afterward. Finally, a doctor prescribed paregoric, and as long as he had a continuous supply, Poppy found some peace. Dad saw that Poppy had all the paregoric he wanted. Mom said after the paregoric, Poppy never read another book.

Because he was so dedicated to the Captain and the company, I saw little of my father while I was growing up. He was always at the mine, or sleeping prior to going to the mine, or resting after getting back. In 1950, when he was thirty-eight years old, he developed cancer of the colon. At the time, he was working double shifts, leading a section deep inside the mine charged with cutting through a massive rock header. Behind the dense sandstone of the header, the Captain believed, was a vast, undiscovered coal seam. Nothing was more important to my father than to get through the header and prove the Captain right. After months of ignoring the bloody symptoms of his cancer, Dad finally passed out in the mine. His men had to carry him out. It was the Captain, not my mother, who rode with him in the ambulance to the hospital in Welch. There the doctors gave him little chance for survival. While Mom waited in the Stevens Clinic waiting room, the Captain was allowed to watch the operation. After a long piece of his intestine was removed, Dad confounded everybody by going back to work in a month. Another month later, drenched in rock dust and sweat, his section punched through the header into the softest, blackest, purest coal anyone had ever seen. There was no celebration. Dad came home, showered and scrubbed himself clean, and went to bed for two days. Then he got up and went back to work again.

There were at least a few times the family was all together. When I was little, Saturday nights were reserved for us to journey over to the county seat of Welch, seven miles and a mountain away from Coalwood. Welch was a bustling little commercial town set down by the Tug Fork River, its tilted streets filled with throngs of miners and their families come to shop. Women went from store to store with children in their arms or hanging from their hands, while their men, often still in mine coveralls and helmets, lagged behind to talk about mining and high-school football with their fellows. While Mom and Dad visited the stores, Jim and I were deposited at the Pocahontas Theater to watch cowboy movies and adventure serials with hundreds of other miners' kids. Jim would never talk to any of the others, but I always did, finding out where the boy or girl who sat next to me was from. It always seemed exciting to me when I met somebody from exotic places like Keystone or Iaeger, mining towns on the other side of the county. By the time I had visited and then watched a serial and a double feature and then been retrieved by my parents to walk around Welch to finish up Mom's shopping, I was exhausted. I almost always fell sound asleep on the ride home in the backseat of the car. When we got back to Coalwood, Dad would lift me over his shoulder and carry me to bed. Sometimes even when I wasn't asleep I pretended to be, just to know his touch.

Shift changes in Coalwood were daily major events. Before each shift began, the miners going to work came out of their houses and headed toward the tipple. The miners coming off-shift, black with coal dirt and sweat, formed another line going in the opposite direction. Every Monday through Friday, the lines formed and met at intersections until hundreds of miners filled our streets. In their coveralls and helmets, they reminded me of newsreels I'd seen of soldiers slogging off to the front.

Like everybody else in Coalwood, I lived according to the rhythms set by the shifts. I was awakened in the morning by the tromp of feet and the clunking of lunch buckets outside as the day shift went to work, I ate supper after Dad saw the evening shift down the shaft, and I went to sleep to the ringing of a hammer on steel and the dry hiss of an arc welder at the little tipple machine shop during the hoot-owl shift. Sometimes, when we boys were still in grade school and tired of playing in the mountains, or dodgeball by the old garages, or straight base in the tiny clearing behind my house, we would pretend to be miners ourselves and join the men in their trek to the tipple. We stood apart in a knot and watched them strap on their lamps and gather their tools, and then a bell would ring, a warning to get in the cage. After they were swallowed by the earth, everything became eerily quiet. It was an unsettling moment, and we boys were always glad to get back to our games, yelling and brawling a little louder than necessary to shatter the spell cast on us by the tipple.

Coalwood was surrounded by forests and mountains dotted with caves and cliffs and gas wells and fire towers and abandoned mines just waiting to be discovered and rediscovered by me and the boys and girls I grew up with. Although our mothers forbade it, we also played around the railroad tracks. Every so often, somebody would come up with the idea of putting a penny on the track and getting it run over by the coal cars to make a big flat medal. We'd all do it then until we had used up our meager supply. Stifling our laughter, we'd hand the crushed coppers across the counter at the company store for candy. The clerk, having seen this many times over the years, usually accepted our tender without comment. They probably had a stack of flat pennies somewhere in the company-store offices, collected over the decades.

For a satisfying noise, nothing beat going up on the Coalwood School bridge and throwing pop bottles into the empty coal cars rolling in to the tipple. When the coal cars were full and stopped beneath the bridge, some of the braver boys would even leap into them, plunging waist-deep into the loose coal. I tried it once and barely escaped when the train suddenly pulled out, bound for Ohio. I wallowed through the coal and climbed down the outside ladder of the car and jumped for it, skinning my hands, knees, and elbows on the packed coal around the track. My mother took no pity on me and scrubbed the coal dirt off me with a stiff brush and Lava soap. My skin felt raw for a week.

When I wasn't outside playing, I spent hours happily reading. I loved to read, probably the result of the unique education I received from the Coalwood School teachers known as the "Great Six," a corruption of the phrase "grades one through six." For years, these same six teachers had seen through their classrooms generations of Coalwood students. Although Mr. Likens, the Coalwood School principal, controlled the junior high school with a firm hand, the Great Six held sway in the grades below. It seemed to be very important to these teachers that I read. By the second grade, I was intimately familiar with and capable of discussing in some detail Tom Sawyer and Uncle Tom's Cabin. Huckleberry Finn they saved for me until the third grade, tantalizingly holding it back as if it contained the very secrets of life. When I was finally allowed to read it, I very well knew this was no simple tale of rafting down a river but the everlasting story of America itself, with all our glory and shame.

Bookcases filled with complete sets of Tom Swift, The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew were in the grade-school hallway and available to any student for the asking. I devoured them, savoring the adventures they brought to me. When I was in the fourth grade, I started going upstairs to the junior high school library to check out the Black Stallion series. There, I also discovered Jules Verne. I fell in love with his books, filled as they were with not only great adventures but scientists and engineers who considered the acquisition of knowledge to be the greatest pursuit of mankind. When I finished all the Verne books in the library, I became the first in line for any book that arrived written by modern science-fiction writers such as Heinlein, Asimov, van Vogt, Clarke, and Bradbury. I liked them all unless they branched out into fantasy. I didn't care to read about heroes who could read minds or walk through walls or do magic. The heroes I liked had courage and knew more real stuff than those who opposed them. When the Great Six inspected my library record and found it top-heavy with adventure and science fiction, they prescribed appropriate doses of Steinbeck, Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It seemed as if all through grade school, I was reading two books, one for me and one for my teachers.

For all the knowledge and pleasure they gave me, the books I read in childhood did not allow me to see myself past Coalwood. Almost all the grown-up Coalwood boys I knew had either joined the military services or gone to work in the mine. I had no idea what the future held in store for me. The only thing I knew for sure was my mother did not see me going into the mine. One time after Dad tossed her his check, I heard her tell him, "Whatever you make, Homer, it isn't enough."

He replied, "It keeps a roof over your head."

She looked at the check and then folded it and put it in her apron pocket. "If you'd stop working in that hole," she said, "I'd live under a tree."

After Mr. Carter sold out, the company was renamed Olga Coal Company. Mom always called it "Miss Olga." If anybody asked her where Dad was, she'd say, "With Miss Olga." She made it sound as if it was his mistress.

Mom's family did not share her aversion to coal mining. All of her four brothers—Robert, Ken, Charlie, and Joe—were miners, and her sister, Mary, was the wife of a miner. Despite their father's hideous accident, my father's two brothers were also miners; Clarence worked in the Caretta mine across the mountain from Coalwood, and Emmett in mines around the county. Dad's sister, Bennie, married a Coalwood miner and they lived down across the creek, near the big machine shops. But the fact that all of her family, and my father's family, were miners did not impress my mother. She had her own opinion, formed perhaps by her independent nature or by her ability to see things as they really were, not as others, including herself, would wish them to be.

In the morning before she began her ritual battle against the dust, my mother could nearly always be found with a cup of coffee at the kitchen table in front of an unfinished mural of a seashore. She had been working on the painting ever since Dad took over the mine and we moved into the Captain's house. By the fall of 1957, she had painted in the sand and shells and much of the sky and a couple of seagulls. There was an indication of a palm tree going up too. It was as if she was painting herself another reality. From her seat at the table, she could reflect on her roses and bird feeders through the picture window the company carpenters had installed for her. Per her specifications, it was angled so not a hint of the mine could be seen.

I knew, even as a child, that my mother was different from just about everybody in Coalwood. When I was around three years old, we were visiting Poppy in his little house up Warriormine Hollow, and he took me on his lap. That scared me, because he didn't have a lap, just an empty wrinkled blanket where his legs should have been. I struggled in his thick arms while Mom hovered nervously nearby. "He's just like Homer," I remember toothless Poppy lisping to Mom while I squirmed. He called to my dad on the other side of the room. "Homer, he's just like you!"

Mom anxiously took me from Poppy and I clutched hard to her shoulder, my heart beating wildly from an unidentified terror. She carried me out onto the front porch, stroking my hair and hushing me. "No, you're not," she crooned just loud enough so only she and I could hear. "No, you're not."

Dad slapped open the screen door and came out on the porch as if to argue with her. Mom turned away from him and I saw his eyes, usually a bright hard blue, soften into liquid blots. I snuggled my face into her neck while Mom continued to rock and hold me, still singing her quietly insistent song: No, you're not. No, you're not. All through my growing-up years, she kept singing it, one way or the other. It was only when I was in high school and began to build my rockets that I finally understood why.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Read More Show Less

Introduction

This Reader’s Group Guide for Homer Hickam’s October Sky/Rocket Boys is designed to stimulate discussion and enhance the reader's appreciation of this exceptional book.

Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. As you read this memoir, did you begin to feel as if you knew the people involved? Did you like them? Do you think you’d have been happy to live in Coalwood in the late 1950’s? If you had, what position in it would you have wanted? Coal miner? Foreman? Teacher? Housewife? Preacher? Doctor? Rocket Boy or Girl? Football Star?

2. Was this memoir similar in its construction with others that you’ve read? What do you think of the memoir genre? Do you think it might be difficult to write a memoir that is interesting to readers?

3. How would you describe this book? Would you call is a man’s book or a woman’s book? Were you fearful it might be too technical? Is it just a story of a boy with a dream or the story of a small mining town? Or is it something grander and deeper?

4. Do you think Homer Senior and Elsie love each other? What is the principle cause of their conflicts? What is the importance of the mural Elsie is painting in the kitchen? Why is Homer Junior called “Sonny” in the book? Why did his teachers insist on calling him by that nickname rather than the one his mother wanted?

5. How would you describe Sonny’s father? Why does Homer Senior take Sonny into the mine, risking Elsie’s wrath? Why does he arrange for rocket materials when he seems so antagonistic to the rocket building? How does the conflict between his mom and dad motivate Sonny? Why was Geneva Eggers so important in Sonny’s understanding of his father?

6. In the first paragraph of the book, Homer writes that his hometown was “at war with itself over its children.” What does this mean?

7. Nearly allthe women in Coalwood are shown to be strong women, a trait they must have to say goodbye daily to their husbands and sons who work in the dangerous mine and may not return that night. Although most of the women of Coalwood make the best of their lot, they want a better life for their children. How can they help this to happen? Are they feminists before the term existed? How about the teachers called “The Great Six?” What’s their role in Coalwood? What is your opinion of Elsie, Sonny’s mother? Is she too harsh with her husband in her attempt to better her life and that of her sons? And Miss Riley? What did it say about her when she stood up for the Rocket Boys against the feared principal, Mr. Turner?

8. Does the book tell a universal story? Could it be set in other times or is it specific to Coalwood and West Virginia in the late ‘50s? The book has been translated into eight languages and people from all over the world say Homer “told their story,” yet they have never held a rocket or even seen a coal mine! The book is dedicated “To Mom and Dad and the people of Coalwood.” Why do you think Homer made that dedication?

9. Many schools from fifth grade to college are studying Rocket Boys/October Sky in their classrooms, including English, math, and science classes. That makes it a pretty unique book! This is an adult book, but it is told from a young man’s point of view. Why do you think teachers are picking this book to study and why are they writing Homer that they think it was their most popular class read ever, sparking the most thoughtful discussion? (See the Web site’s Teacher’s button and the letters from them for many examples.)

10. This story is also about the rewards and costs of nonconformity. Who conforms, who doesn’t and what are the consequences of their actions? Is that a problem today and can this story help those who tend to go against the expected norms? How was Quentin a nonconformist? How about the other boys?

11. In Chapter 22, Mr. Turner, the Big Creek High School principal, wryly tells Sonny, “In the queer mass of human destiny, the determining factor has always been luck.” But in Chapter 26, Homer writes, “There’s a plan. If you are willing to fight hard enough, you can make it detour for a while, but you’re still going to end up where God wants you to be.” Are these quotations about human fate really in conflict with each other? How do they apply to the story?

12. Rocket Boys/October Sky is an excellent way to think about and discuss the many steps it takes to achieve a goal. Sonny’s idea of building rockets starts as simply a dream, but then he brings in the other boys and even approaches Quentin, the school outcast. The Rocket Boys first look upon their rocket-building as interesting and fun but then it becomes a challenge to defy expectations. Only much later does the idea of entering the science fairs occur to them. Discuss the importance of incremental steps in your life. Do you believe an incremental approach has validity in all walks of life, academic and otherwise? Why does Quentin believe in the necessity of obtaining what he calls a “body of knowledge?”

13. Miss Riley, the physics teacher, seems to regard education as a challenge and adventure. Sonny rises to meet the formidable task she sets before him. He writes, “I had discovered that learning something, no matter how complex, wasn’t hard when I had a reason to want to know it”(p. 168). That challenge is taken to the next level by Miss Riley when she gives him the book Principles of Guided Missile Design, saying, “All I’ve done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what’s inside it”(p. 232). Discuss Miss Riley’s motivational techniques.

14. When Sonny thinks of giving up rocketry altogether, Miss Riley tells him: “You’ve got to put all your hurt and anger aside so that you can do your job ... Your job, Sonny, is to build your rockets.” When Sonny asks why that’s so important, she answers, “If for no other reason, because it honors you and this school”(p. 296). It’s clear that she means it also honors Coalwood. Discuss the concept of civic pride. How do the Rocket Boys help the town? Why are they celebrated in the newspapers? In church? In the Big Store? By both sides of the unionization conflict? Why do so many attend their rocket launches? Is it just because the football team is on year-long suspension?

15. Discuss the motivational aspects contained within this story. How did Sputnik motivate Sonny? Is his mother trying to be motivational after he blows up her rose garden fence with his first rocket? (“I believe you can build a rocket. [Your father] doesn’t. I want you to show him I’m right”(p. 52).) Early in his career as a rocket builder, Rocket Boy O’Dell says, “A rocket won’t fly unless someone lights the fuse”(p. 105). How important is it to find motivation in all our endeavors? Would the boys have gotten to the science fair without being motivated by something larger than themselves?

16. The final chapter in the book (before the epilogue) finishes with the launch of the last rocket of the Big Creek Missile Agency. Homer Senior is invited to launch this rocket. Why do you think this invitation was made? Why do you think he accepted?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. As you read this memoir, did you begin to feel as if you knew the people involved? Did you like them? Do you think you’d have been happy to live in Coalwood in the late 1950’s? If you had, what position in it would you have wanted? Coal miner? Foreman? Teacher? Housewife? Preacher? Doctor? Rocket Boy or Girl? Football Star?

2. Was this memoir similar in its construction with others that you’ve read? What do you think of the memoir genre? Do you think it might be difficult to write a memoir that is interesting to readers?

3. How would you describe this book? Would you call is a man’s book or a woman’s book? Were you fearful it might be too technical? Is it just a story of a boy with a dream or the story of a small mining town? Or is it something grander and deeper?

4. Do you think Homer Senior and Elsie love each other? What is the principle cause of their conflicts? What is the importance of the mural Elsie is painting in the kitchen? Why is Homer Junior called “Sonny” in the book? Why did his teachers insist on calling him by that nickname rather than the one his mother wanted?

5. How would you describe Sonny’s father? Why does Homer Senior take Sonny into the mine, risking Elsie’s wrath? Why does he arrange for rocket materials when he seems so antagonistic to the rocket building? How does the conflict between his mom and dad motivate Sonny? Why was Geneva Eggers so important in Sonny’s understanding of his father?

6. In the first paragraph of the book, Homer writes that his hometown was “at war with itself over its children.” What does this mean?

7. Nearly all the women in Coalwood are shown to be strong women, a trait they must have to say goodbye daily to their husbands and sons who work in the dangerous mine and may not return that night. Although most of the women of Coalwood make the best of their lot, they want a better life for their children. How can they help this to happen? Are they feminists before the term existed? How about the teachers called “The Great Six?” What’s their role in Coalwood? What is your opinion of Elsie, Sonny’s mother? Is she too harsh with her husband in her attempt to better her life and that of her sons? And Miss Riley? What did it say about her when she stood up for the Rocket Boys against the feared principal, Mr. Turner?

8. Does the book tell a universal story? Could it be set in other times or is it specific to Coalwood and West Virginia in the late ‘50s? The book has been translated into eight languages and people from all over the world say Homer “told their story,” yet they have never held a rocket or even seen a coal mine! The book is dedicated “To Mom and Dad and the people of Coalwood.” Why do you think Homer made that dedication?

9. Many schools from fifth grade to college are studying Rocket Boys/October Sky in their classrooms, including English, math, and science classes. That makes it a pretty unique book! This is an adult book, but it is told from a young man’s point of view. Why do you think teachers are picking this book to study and why are they writing Homer that they think it was their most popular class read ever, sparking the most thoughtful discussion? (See the Web site’s Teacher’s button and the letters from them for many examples.)

10. This story is also about the rewards and costs of nonconformity. Who conforms, who doesn’t and what are the consequences of their actions? Is that a problem today and can this story help those who tend to go against the expected norms? How was Quentin a nonconformist? How about the other boys?

11. In Chapter 22, Mr. Turner, the Big Creek High School principal, wryly tells Sonny, “In the queer mass of human destiny, the determining factor has always been luck.” But in Chapter 26, Homer writes, “There’s a plan. If you are willing to fight hard enough, you can make it detour for a while, but you’re still going to end up where God wants you to be.” Are these quotations about human fate really in conflict with each other? How do they apply to the story?

12. Rocket Boys/October Sky is an excellent way to think about and discuss the many steps it takes to achieve a goal. Sonny’s idea of building rockets starts as simply a dream, but then he brings in the other boys and even approaches Quentin, the school outcast. The Rocket Boys first look upon their rocket-building as interesting and fun but then it becomes a challenge to defy expectations. Only much later does the idea of entering the science fairs occur to them. Discuss the importance of incremental steps in your life. Do you believe an incremental approach has validity in all walks of life, academic and otherwise? Why does Quentin believe in the necessity of obtaining what he calls a “body of knowledge?”

13. Miss Riley, the physics teacher, seems to regard education as a challenge and adventure. Sonny rises to meet the formidable task she sets before him. He writes, “I had discovered that learning something, no matter how complex, wasn’t hard when I had a reason to want to know it”(p. 168). That challenge is taken to the next level by Miss Riley when she gives him the book Principles of Guided Missile Design, saying, “All I’ve done is give you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what’s inside it”(p. 232). Discuss Miss Riley’s motivational techniques.

14. When Sonny thinks of giving up rocketry altogether, Miss Riley tells him: “You’ve got to put all your hurt and anger aside so that you can do your job ... Your job, Sonny, is to build your rockets.” When Sonny asks why that’s so important, she answers, “If for no other reason, because it honors you and this school”(p. 296). It’s clear that she means it also honors Coalwood. Discuss the concept of civic pride. How do the Rocket Boys help the town? Why are they celebrated in the newspapers? In church? In the Big Store? By both sides of the unionization conflict? Why do so many attend their rocket launches? Is it just because the football team is on year-long suspension?

15. Discuss the motivational aspects contained within this story. How did Sputnik motivate Sonny? Is his mother trying to be motivational after he blows up her rose garden fence with his first rocket? (“I believe you can build a rocket. [Your father] doesn’t. I want you to show him I’m right”(p. 52).) Early in his career as a rocket builder, Rocket Boy O’Dell says, “A rocket won’t fly unless someone lights the fuse”(p. 105). How important is it to find motivation in all our endeavors? Would the boys have gotten to the science fair without being motivated by something larger than themselves?

16. The final chapter in the book (before the epilogue) finishes with the launch of the last rocket of the Big Creek Missile Agency. Homer Senior is invited to launch this rocket. Why do you think this invitation was made? Why do you think he accepted?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 70 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(49)

4 Star

(17)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

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1 Star

(1)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 70 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 8, 2009

    A Real Page Turner.

    "Whoosh". Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam JR, is a memoir about a kid named Sonny Hickam, who builds rockets with his friends in Coalwood, West Virginia, in 1957. In the this book, Sonny's dad starts out by ignoring him because Sonny wanted to build rockets with his friends, but, Sonny builds rockets anyway. He uses scrap pieces of metal from the mine and he buys some things with his money. Sonny and his friends build rockets in his basement with different gases and things. Their first rocket fails and takes out Sonny's mother's fence. Read it to find out what else happens!


    I thought think that this book was was a great book. It is a great book for all audiences. Children, and adults. You should read this book because it is all about how a kid built something great, even when his dad said he could not accomplish anything. I think that this book taught me a lot about how to stick to things that I am doing. I also think that it taught me that with your friend's help, you can do anything.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2013

    Rocket Boys is a very inspiring book because it¿s about a boy an

    Rocket Boys is a very inspiring book because it’s about a boy and his friends creating rockets and Homer Jr. going behind his fathers back to do what hes dreamed of doing. Homer Jr. is different than all the other kids and that’s what makes him special.The book Rocket Boys was very inspiring because it is about this boy and his friends building rockets. They end up doing there experiment in a science fair they actually win. Then Homer Jr’s teacher is in the hospital when he gets back from Indianapolis. Homer Jr. has a hard road home. Homer Jr. and his friends made a rocket epically for her. They put her name on it and then Homer Jr.’s dad launched it for them. I thought the book was very good because it just made me want to follow my dream and he just inspired me so much. I loved reading his book and I also got to meet him. His words were very inspiring and encouraging because this book was based on a true life event. I was touched when he made a rocket for his teacher. She was also special because she encouraged Homer. I thought the book was very good because it just made me want to follow my dream and he just inspired me so much. I loved reading his book and I also got to meet him. His words were very inspiring and encouraging because this book was based on a true life event. I was touched when he made a rocket for his teacher. She was also special because she encouraged Homer. In, Conclusion the book was a marvelous book to read. I would suggest this book who likes intresting books. This book is based on a true story so I recommend it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2004

    Spectacular all the way through

    Great book. Depicts with great detail the awesome story of Homer Hickam

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2011

    Rocket Boys Take Off

    In the city of Coalwood, kids have few choices for their future. They could go to work in the town mine, go into the army, or get a football scholarship. Most of the kids accept this and go on, yet this is not the Case for young Homer Hickam JR. After he hears about Sputnik and watches it cross the sky above his head, he decides he wants to go down to Cape Canaveral and work with Dr. Von Braun in building rockets. Finding no books to help him at all, Homer must start from the very basics and work with his friends, Roy Lee, O'Dell, Sherman and Quentin, to learn all there is about rockets and how they work so they can win the science fair and possibly get a scholarship. The major message of this book is to not give up on your dreams, that enough work can get you to where you want to go. I really liked how ethos was largely weaved into the book to give the reader a strong connection with Homer, along with explaining all the mechanics out for the reader to understand. I have no dislikes for this book. Somebody should read this if they just want a good story overall, or if they're interesting in aerospace engineering. My overall rating for this book is 5 out of 5.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2006

    The best memoir ever

    Rocket Boys is the most-picked book for community reads across the country. It is considered a classic. Nearly every school has it on its reading lists. Notice that since it came out, it consistently gets five stars from every reader, no matter their age or interests. It is a compelling work. Once you start it, you'll find it difficult to put down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2006

    the best book in the world

    this is definitely my favorite book of all time. this book has forever been engraved upon my heart, and i am glad that i have been so fortunate as to discover it after many years of searching for something to obsess over. whenever i read this book, i have great difficulty with putting it down. the end makes me cry like a BABY, and i always hate it when i finish it for the third or seventh or twelvth time around. it is just such a timelessly immortal memoir, and i'm honestly glad that i took the time to read it. it is really a beautiful book, and i will strongly challenge anyone who thinks otherwise.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2005

    Far better than the movie

    A wonderful read. The book is far better than the movie. You will not be disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2005

    Rocket Boys: A Memoir

    This was a great book, all of the conflict with his brother, father and sometimes his mother really made the book a more mature read. The movie ommitted some important aspects, the book helps us understand much more.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2005

    Rocket Boys: A Memoir

    This book captured the harsh life of West Virginia coal mining, along with the hope of a bright future somewhere else. It also had the right amount of science to be understandable but not complicated or boring.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2005

    The same book as October Sky

    Rocket Boys is the original title of the book that is also known as October Sky. I notice under the review of that book on the site that so many students have just seen the movie and not read the book. The clues are as follows: Scholarships. There were no scholarships in the book, only the movie. The Rocket Boys. In the movie, there are four. In the book, six. Sonny (not Homer as in the movie), Roy Lee, Quentin, Billy, Sherman, and O'Dell. Working in the mine. Sonny (Homer) did not work in the mine in the book. That was only in the film. I could go on and on. Students, read the book. It is very different and better than the movie. I swan. And if you never heard of 'I swan', then you definitely did not read the book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2003

    Coalminers to the Moon!!!!!!!!

    'Rocket Boys', by Homer Hickam, Jr. a book that was both exciting and heartfelt. This book was based on a true story and as you read you feel a part of the town and a friend with the rocket boys themselves. Ther dedication and pation for learning and each other helps this book capture you and grow with the characters life experiences. The book 'Rocket Boys' takes place in a town in West Virginia called Coalwood. The town's main business is that of miners and everything in the town revolves around the mining business. The super intendent is Homer Hickam, Sr., he has a wife and two sons. One of his sons, Homer Hickam, Jr., AKA Sonny, has a passion and interest in space. He recruits he buddies to help him study and master the skills of building a rockets. They form a group called the BCMA which stands for Big Creek Missle Agency. Throughout the book they begin to ask thier assistant in learning about the structure and the dictance of the rockets. The BCMA, which includes Sonny's friends Quentin, Roy Lee, Sherman, O'Dell, and Billy try many different structures and fuel to master their rockets. Sonny's mother encourages him in his rocket endeavors as she does not want him to go into the minning business. Sonnys father's feelings were he wants Sonny to become an engineer for the mine, however he does assest them with materials later in the novel. Sonny loves his mother deeply and longs for his fathers approval. All the relationships, between friends and family make this a touching experiance. My favorite part was when the boys shot off thier first rocket, and they blew up Sonny's mom's rose garden fince. My least favorite part is when Ms. Riley becomes sick. Allthough she was one of Sonny's biggest advocates it is also sad for him when she is not there to support him as a teacher and friend throughout the science fair. Rocket boys will be a book I will remember forever and is one of my favorites. It is both touching and interesting. My feeling are it is a must read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2003

    A book that makes you think

    Rocket Boys not only subtly hints at a changing time in Americas history but it also shows teens that you should shoot for the stars. I first read this book 5 years ago and found my self reading The Coalwood Way and Sky of stone shortly after.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2003

    If it were possible I'd give it six stars! - A very well written book.

    It's surprising how the small mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia could've developed such a brilliant author, and rocket scientist. I've bought all three of his Coalwood books (in the trilogy) and own a fourth, We are not Afraid (related to Cooalwood but not necessarily in the series). Anyway ---- these are my steps to enjoy the books the way I have. (1) Watch October Sky (the movie, 1999). (2) Compare the movie to this book, Rocket Boys as you read it. (3) Exhale a great sigh of satisfaction as you finish Rocket Boys. (4) Read the next books in order: The Coalwood Way, Sky of Stone. Or you could do this: (1) Watch October Sky. (2) Read up to Chapter 22, having read through Auks XXII-A,B,C,D (3) Read The Coalwood Way (starting with Auk XXII-E). The Coalwood Way is just a breakdown within Homer's high school years of winter 1959. (Sky of Stone takes place during Homer's summer of 1961, a year through college). (4) Finish Rocket Boys. (5) Read Sky of Stone.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2001

    The Best

    This book is the best book I have ever read. I was upset that i finished it because i enjoyed it so much. Being in my teen years, I related with the book so much through Hickam's views. Before reading this book, i hated reading but now i enjoy it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2001

    I Thought This Book Was Outstanding

    I thought the book Rocket Boys was a outstanding book. This book had much detail in everything it said. This book also played with your feelings, sometimes when reading the book I would get sad when the book got sad, and get happy when the book got happy. I feel that Homer Hickam Jr. did a great job with writng the 'Rocket Boys' and I can't wait to read 'Back to th

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2000

    An Excellent Story Enjoyed By Anyone and Everyone

    Whether you are into space or rocketry or not, this book is page-turner, and once you get into it, you will not want to put it down. It is a story of hope, courage and determination. It shows that if you work hard enough you can accomplish anything that you set your mind too. When you reach the last page you don't want the moving true story to end. Homer Hickem is a true American hero and a very gifted story teller.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2000

    Inspiration

    Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys is and will always be a great inspiration to me and to nayone else who reads his book. To be yourself, to be someone. It's all that Sonny wants and he works for it. He finds himself and through his book, I am too. Read it, you won't be disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2013

    This book is very interesting to me. Homer Hickam is a really


    This book is very interesting to me. Homer Hickam is a really good author. This book was really fun to read. He wrote it so good it felt like we were right there with him in Coalwood, West Virginia. My class watched the movie October Sky also after we read the book. This book kept my interest because it talked about Homer’s life and what he did as a teenager. He also inspired me by not giving up on what he loved to do the most— building rockets. I really like his books! He is an awesome author. His books always get my attention or get me interested. In conclusion, the book Rocket Boys is personally one of my favorite books so I rated it five stars! If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it if you what to get inspired and motivation.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2013

    If you want to read an inspiring book, then read The Rocket Boys

    If you want to read an inspiring book, then read The Rocket Boys because it is one that will really hold your interrest. Back in the 1960s, Homer Hickam Jr. grew up thinking that all he’d become was a coal miner. Then when he was four-teen he decided he wanted to be like his inspiration Warner Von Braun and build rockets. That was his only ticket out of Coal Wood. He ended up very successful doing what he loves. He first won a gold metal at the National Science Fair in 1960. Then he ended up becoming a NASA engineer. Homer Hickam Jr. followed his dreams and they led him far. He grew up thinking that he’d never get out of Coalwood or even West Virginia. This book is wonderful. It keeps you excited and it makes you want to read more. I really liked thebook. It was so fun to read what was going to happen next. He made the book so interresting. In conclusion, rocket boys is an inspiring book that will hold your interrest and keep you reading.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2013

    10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.....Whoosh! This true story on five boys wh

    10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.....Whoosh! This true story on five boys who are determined to follow their dreams. The town's main business
     is mining and everything in the town revolves around the mining business. Living in coalwood they aren't 
    given many choices for life they either go into the mines, go into the Army, or get out on a football scholarship.Most of the kids accept
    this and go on, yet this is not the Case for young Homer Hickam JR. After he hears about Sputnik and watches
    it cross the sky above his head, he decides he wants to go down to Cape Canaveral and work with Dr. Von Braun in building rockets. 
    These five boys don't all start out as friends but build a friendship as they build a rocket. These boys aren't given much support
    from their town, except for one person who is their teacher Miss. Riley. Even though these boys had their ups and down the stuck to
    what they thought was right and what they wanted to do. Through out the book the main theme is don't give up on your dreams stay
    true to yourself. This book is good for all ages and a inspiring and touching memoir. This book is definitely one of my favorites!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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