Homer Hickam was. I had never heard of Rocket Boys. October Sky has been on tv numerous times but I'm not a big movie watcher, so I hadn't seen it either. So when one of our principals told me the Freshman Academy was planning a cross-curriculum study using this book as a jumping off point, I figured I'd better read it when the order came in!
This book is based on Hickam's experiences growing up in a coal mining town in West Virginia during the fifties. His dad was the mine superintendent, and Homer's (nicknamed Sonny) life was measured by the mine--the shift changes, the way the coal was mined, the disasters, the good years, the bad ones. Their home was near the mine entrance and Sonny rose and slept to the cadence of the tramp of miner's feet on their way to and from work, and the crashing of the coal cars and his childhood was colored by the endless coal dust that coated everything always, in spite of his mother's tireless attempt to keep it from the house.
Everyone's life was governed by the coal mine and Sonny always thought that his future was there also--when he thought about the future. He was like most kids, involved in crazy childhood games with his friends, battling his older brother and accepting the rhythm of his life without question. Until Russia launched Sputnik into space. He became fascinated with rockets and the space race. He began to think about the future and his place in it. He read everything there was to be had in his school library about rockets. He wanted to build one. He wanted to discover a way of sending a rocket into space, putting a man on the moon and destroying the threat that Communist Russia was sending spy missiles over the United States and likely to invade at any time.
He and a group of friends who became The Rocket Boys, decided to build a rocket. With little to no knowledge of what they were doing, they filled a flashlight casing full of cherry bomb powder, attached it to his mother's rose garden fences and lit the fuse. Once the fire was put out and the pieces of fence were found, his mom suggested he learn some more about explosives and shared with him her best, most frequently uttered advice--Don't blow yourself up.
Sonny and his friends were not the best of students, but their desire to learn more about rocketry and engineering gave them the impetus to try to learn calculus and trigonometry on their own and to plead their math teacher and principal to provide advanced math classes. It gave them the courage to ask their science teacher outrageous questions to which they really wanted to know the answers. It gave them a glimpse of the future that did not include the coal mines.
This is the story of how Sonny and his friends escaped what seemed to be a certain future underground. It is also the story of how a group of nerdy, science-minded Rocket Boys gained more fame than the local football heroes. It is a lesson on how a burning desire and curiosity can drive you to achieve what seems impossible. And it is a lesson on families and home. It is inspiring and humbling, hilarious and heartbreaking.
If you're interested in reading the short story that spawned the novel, go here. Then go find a copy of the book or at least watch the movie. You'll wonder what took you so long to discover such a marvelous story.
Many stories herein are subject to the faulty, and sometimes creative, memory of the blog owner and should not be taken as factual, although the names and events are real! Kind of.