Ideas for group reads of Rocket Boys/October Sky
by Homer Hickam
Linda Hickam here, Homer's assistant and wife.
It is such an honor that many cities are choosing my husband Homer Hickam's book Rocket Boys also known as October Sky as a city read.
This 1999 #1 NYTimes bestseller was made into the popular movie October Sky (family friendly at PG).
It has the popular vote with its best-selling status, but also won top literary awards, including being selected a NYTimes Notable book and receiving a Book Critics Circle nomination for best biography.
The top Hollywood award for family and redeeming social value movies, the Humanitas Award, was given in 1999 to October Sky (the movie name is an "anagram" of Rocket Boys, the book title - just rearrange the letters!)
I answer the amazing amount to fan mail he gets from all over the world and manage his extensive Web site www.homerhickam.com. Homer has no big head over this, as he knows he is only the VOICE of Coalwood.
This little story of a special town working to make dreams come true entertains of course, but also has the remarkable ability to CHANGE LIVES.
I don't say this lightly.
I have hundreds of letters on the Web site (Fan Mail page and under the Educators page) to show that -from all ages, with all kinds of reactions, it is amazing.
We have had many career changes, one marriage from the book, several marriages saved, one alcoholic who decided to quit drinking after reading it, a young man who quit a gang after seeing the movie...much much more, have a look, it is so astonishing!
It is an adult reading level book but kids will try reading it after seeing the movie - then they are so proud to write to Homer "The book was better than the movie!"
It is available in eight languages, audio book, large print, and ebook too.
It has been enjoyed by numerous reading groups (they write) and over 400 schools are studying it in class each year (they write!) from 5th grade through college, including Columbine High School, where the book has been studied in English classes for five years now.
We have generated a complete reading group "Toolbox" modeled after Seattle's "One Book" program and have it available for any group reading the book.
We have discussion questions already done, a Educators' Guide and tests and lesson plans for the book, much more, all available free on the Web site.
In particular, see the Reading Group page and the Educators' page for these files.
And see the letters on the Educators' page about all the wonderful success they have had with the book.
Below are lots of fun ideas to enhance your program from the cities who have read the book as a group so far, about 20 now, big and small.
I have many other helpful, inspirational and event enhancing files available to send depending on your interests.
Please let me know how I can help make this your best read ever!
Some have been successfully done before by groups, others are new ideas.
Please let us know what YOU come up with and the favorite activities!
Many of the cities and universities of course want to know of Homer's availability to participate in the fun.
Homer would love to come but there are so many requests and his time is limited.
His primary purpose in life is to write and writing, of course, takes most of his time and he has book deadlines.
He is, however, a wonderful inspirational speaker and does occasionally travel for that purpose with his fees going to his scholarship programs.
As such, he is signed with Greater Talent Network, a lecture agent.
Please contact Lisa Bransdorf, for more information on Homer's usual appearance requirements.
I can also help you with possible other options, including guest appearances by one or more of the other Rocket Boys - Roy Lee, O'Dell, Quentin, and Billy, all of whom are great speakers.
There is also the possibility of Homer participating through telephone/radio/television interviews and on closed circuit television to schools and other venues.
I can assist you in setting those up.
Ideas for an Author Visit
An evening with the author and more... get sponsors to join in - bookstores of course, but businesses too.
The author presents an hour program for the general public at a large venue and Q&A is included with a book signing afterwards.
Book signing and sale of all of the Hickam books. This can be a big money maker for a book store sponsor chosen to handle it, or the library itself.
Private reception (sometimes it is a dinner) to meet the author beforehand to reward library donors and for high paying ticket holders.
Special Library supporters or committee members often receive a signed copy of one of the other sequels in the Coalwood trilogy, i.e.
The Coalwood Way or Sky of Stone, or the inspirational Coalwood book, We Are Not Afraid.
The books given have an author-signed bookplate in them thanking donors for their support and with the event info.
Perhaps photos with the author there?
Sometimes a longer visit can be scheduled with several speeches/signings, visits to school etc.
Appearances or interviews of the other Rocket boys!
Meet the SIX Real ROCKET BOYS.
Their photos, stories and email addresses are on the Coalwood page and schedule permitting, they are happy to be involved in your read with radio or print interviews or echats.
They even have visited some of the cities reading the book - Tiffin, Ohio says Rocket Boy Roy Lee Cooke's talk and book signing was the highlight of their community read! (Homer was unable to visit due to writing deadlines.)
Video interviews of them are here.
See our Reading Group page on the Web site.
Reading guides are there and lots of links for other places of interest to them.
Encourage discussion about the differences between the movie and the book, more on that below under Film Screenings.
Books for Book Groups. The library lends many copies (or gives them free, if there is a donor with funds) of the featured book to book discussion groups during the reading period, as well as having lots of copies in-house.
In other cities, Starbucks outlets hosted book groups meeting there with free java and retailers offered promotional tote bags, candy bars or rocket shaped pens.
Have a West Virginia dinner theme for one. Have southern food like fried chicken, pinto beans, greens, cornbread and Sonny's favorite, banana pudding. Elsie Hickam's recipe for that is available below.
- One school did this for the students' parents to intro the book to them before their kids were studying it in class. They sent photos - they had rocket balloons, covers of the book on the tables, had made everyone NASA badges, and it looked like a lot of fun.
- A library kicked off their read with a cake decorating contest based on the book's themes. There were many great rockets but "Cake Coalwood" won!
Reading Group Guides to the other three Homer Hickam Coalwood Books:
See the Reading Group page. These have Homer's comments to each
discussion question there too. We are Not Afraid is an especially timely
additional read that is a great companion book to Rocket Boys.
A "telltale button" (A rocket?) for people participating so they can quickly see who is reading the book and can discuss it with them wherever they are - in line at the grocery store etc.
A "Get Caught Reading" contest where people wearing the button or who are caught reading the book are given prizes. Call it "Rockets at Random" (the three R's...) if it is a rocket button?
Radio Reading. Local celebrities read favorite parts or local actors read some of it. The mayor quite often is one celebrity reader for this.
- Or an unabridged audio book may be broadcast (the only unabridged is from the books available for the blind from the library. Abridged audio is by Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-671-58272-0 Let us know if you can't locate it easily as I have a source. Homer reads the first part of this audio book himself and it is neat to broadcast that.
Radio Broadcasts. Interviews with the author and other Rocket Boys. Radio hosts a live radio program with the author during which part of the time listeners are invited to call in with questions. Public radio programs are taped for re-broadcast or to check out from the library. Times are posted and announced. Videotapes of anything appropriate are added to the library's collection for checkout.
Film Screening. Have a free showing of OCTOBER SKY (family friendly at PG), the film adaptation of Rocket Boys. (The movie name was gotten by making an "anagram" of the book name - just rearrange the letters. It is the ONLY anagram possible of the two words and the film begins with the launch of Sputnik, which was launched in the October sky in 1957!)
- Have the local hobby rocket groups or science fair winners have displays for the screening in the lobby.
- Encourage discussion about the differences between the two media to add to readers' appreciation of the work. What does Hollywood mean by "based on a true story? We say about 30% of the film is "movie magic", that is, made up.
Get local Hobby Rocket groups involved. Have their rocket launches announced at the library or have them visit schools to talk about rocket safely or help science teachers have a school launch. Have them give a seminar at the library where kids all make a rocket and launch it. Displays etc.
Have a Rocket Boys Trivia Quiz with prizes (we have a sample one we can give you that can be used, which was done by Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, Ohio, who read Rocket Boys/October Sky as their Community read in April 2002. The game was in the paper, mailed in.
- Win an autographed copy of Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam (Any of Homer's books can be ordered specially autographed from our friend's bookstore, Shaver's Books, John Shaver, email@example.com
- Win a Rocket Boys T-shirt or polo shirt, caps, mouse pads, magnets, etc - anything printable is available from Barefoot Sportswear with choices of several RBoys logos, either embroidered or printed. They are a "mom and pop" business in Minnesota, please give them plenty of time. Call Barefoot Sportswear, Steve or Sandy: 218 847-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org See some samples on our Web site under the Gifts page.
Anagram or codes contests, puzzle groups. Some tie in with math - like demonstrations of amazing math puzzles, codes, etc.
Hold a sock hop in the style of the 1950s, as described in the book. Either open to all ages or specifically for teens.
Stage the book as a play or musical! Rocket Boy skits from local talent groups or schools, staged in the library or a bookstore.
Star gazing parties - get your local astronomy groups involved. You can track the Space Station online even.
Public presentations from anyone in the community involved with any aspect of the book. Perhaps you have space industry people, or someone from WV or Appalachia, an expert on coal mining, or a retired astronaut!
Personal stories in the newspaper about teachers who made a difference to tie in with Miss Riley in the book. We have the Golden Apple Award in our city where students and others nominate their exceptional teachers. Homer sends them a letter of thanks too. The Partnership for America's Future's "Miss Riley Teachers Award" for disabled amazing teachers is now a $10,000.00 prize and their site linked from our Teacher's button. We just helped judge it, simply amazing teachers. Two were blind, several had MS, Parkinson's, polio etc.
Many, many sermons preached from Rocket Boys and The Coalwood Way have been reported to us, so have churches involved? Required reading in several private religious schools.
Have an eBookclub - a month or two week long book discussion online with Homer and the other Rocket Boys able to join in when they want.
E-chat live event with Homer or the other RBoys.
The Random House Teaching Guide
A more print friendly one, so that teachers can modify it themselves, and much more classroom material and tips and links is here on Homer's Web site's Educators' section or our Students' section.
His schedule permitting, There is the possibility of Homer or the other Rocket Boys participating through telephone/radio/television interviews and on closed circuit television for Homer to speak to lots of schools at once.
See the Web site from one high school - all kinds of related links and areas to study.
Don't forget to get home schooling involved, a huge enthusiastic group.
See the town of COALWOOD, WV, Then and Now
Study of Appalachia, coal mining, rockets, career choices etc.
See our Educators' letters on the Educators' section for lots of great and different ideas on how other teachers used the book and movie in the classroom.
DECORATIONS AND MORE GIFTS/PRIZES
One library had an 8 1/2 x 11 sign up sheet for people who had read Rocket Boys.
They put the sheets side by side in 2s and then went long to make a rocket body with a nosecone top and fins and fire coming out the bottom.
The rocket got longer and longer as the number grew and they had 1500 names in the end!
Wood County District Public Library in Bowling Green, Ohio did a community read of Rocket Boys/October Sky and to kick it off, had a cake decoration contest.
Cakes were brought to the kickoff of the read, judged and then served to the group.
The winner was "Cake Coalwood!" See their Web site and the entries here.
Another library had the cutest blowup astronaut doll decorations all over for their Rocket Boys read.
They are about 23 inches high, so they seem like a real bang for the buck for decorations at $1.50 each.
You might have a look at this company and others like it: Oriental Trading Co. Item # IN-49/810 - $17.95 a dozen.
The faceplate is just silver so Homer signed there for special people, neat idea!
I also searched under astronaut, star, moon, space etc. and saw LOTS of cute inexpensive things to decorate with or sell/gift such as:
- G-I-D CELESTIAL BEACH BALLS (big blow up!)
- Item Number: IN-49/25
- $11.95 per Dozen
- G-I-D MOON & STAR INFLATES
- Item Number: IN-49/256
- $4.95 per Dozen
- Space stickers
- Item Number: IN-9/350
- LIQUID ROCKET TIMER
- Item Number: IN-16/141
- $5.95 per Piece
- SPACE SHADOW FLASHLIGHTS
- Item Number: IN-23/125
- $12.95 per Dozen
- Rocket lava lights and other rocket lamps!!
- YELLOW & TEAL ROCKET OOZE LAMP
- Item Number: IN-16/515
- $14.95 per Piece
and more stuff, a neat site for any theme needs, I bookmarked it for myself as I didn't know about places like this!
- EDUCATIONAL SPACE WIGGLE RULERS
- Item Number: IN-12/86
- $2.49 per Dozen
Let me know what YOUR group comes up with!
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT!
No reading, no eating. A criterion for participating in a progressive dinner last Saturday night was the reading of a book.
By: The Winchester Star, April 2003
Members of the Winchester School Board and employees of the central office staff gathered for a night of eating and book discussion about the One Book, One Community project, Rocket Boys.
Not only was reading the book a criteria but participants also had to be ready for trivia questions about the book. Each phase of dinner included discussion of the book.
A list of trivia questions was given to the participants at the first stop for hors d'oeuvre. The 35 participants were divided into two groups with one group going to the home of school board member, Tom Keenan, and his wife, Julie, and the other group went to the home of Dennis Kellison, superintendent of Winchester schools.
Highlights of the evening's appetizers included Rocket Fuel Punch, Dugout Dip, and Sputnik Salsa, and the playing of the sound track of the movie, October Sky, based on the book.
Dinner was at two locations, the home of school board member, Kate Schultz, and her husband, Eugene, and the home of school board member, Randy Bryant, and his wife, Nan.
Menu items included Coalwood Crab Cakes and Shrimp on a Shaft.
Randy, who does a great deal of the cooking at his house because he says he would rather "cook than clean up," said he puts lots of crab in his cakes and very little filler.
Rocket Man by Elton John played in the background during the meal at the Bryants.
As far as the selected book, Randy said he has enjoyed reading it. "I tend to read history and this was a nice deviation from the dry facts of history."
The entire group gathered for dessert at the Schultz home and were treated to homemade Moon Pies (Whoopee Pies) as well as the real thing. "It was about 50-50 with those choosing the homemade or the purchased pies," said Karen.
Table decorations at the Schultz home included coal as a base for rockets with red carnations for the flames, explained Karen
"The effort and creativity is shown in the final product of the first graders who made the rocket place cards for the table," said Karen. First graders in Karen Willis's class at John Kerr Elementary School prepared the cards.
In addition, dessert included ice cream sundaes with Rocket Candy Sprinkles and Chocolate Coal Chips.
Vernon Laney, coordinator of curriculum and instruction for the Winchester schools, said it was interesting listening to the stories from the group since many of the dinner participants were from West Virginia and knew about some of the characters in the book.
Promoting the book and the project was a goal of the evening, said Dennis. "This exercise showed how adults and the school system promote reading and literacy."
In addition, he said it was a mechanism to encourage a working relationship within the group. "We have never done this type exercise before."
Impressed that everyone had read the book, Karen said "It was a great evening of fun centered around a great book."
Whoopee Pies Recipe
The main dessert for a progressive dinner Saturday was Whoopee Pies, which is a homemade version of Moon Pies.
The menu and discussion for the evening centered around the book, Rocket Boys.
Winchester School Board members and employees of the central office staff took part in the dinner that included trivia questions about the book that was selected for the One Book One Community Project
The dessert was served at the home of Karen and Gene Schultz and was the final phase of the dinner. Karen, a member of the School Board, prepared the dessert from a recipe provided by Jean Allen of Winchester.
Moon Pies are a favorite item mentioned in the book.
Mix all ingredients together. Drop from teaspoon on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1 cup milk
Mix until smooth. Spread filling between two pies.
- 1 cup shortening (This has to be Crisco to maintain the white color.)
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- 1 jar marshmallow creme
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla