Cover image for The Coalwood way
The Coalwood way
Hickam, Homer H., 1943-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xii, 318 pages ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
830 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.2 17.0 55935.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.1 24 Quiz: 22815 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3558.I224 C62 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



It's fall, 1959, and Homer "Sonny" Hickam and his fellow Rocket Boys are in their senior year at Big Creek High, launching handbuilt rockets that soar thousands of feet into the West Virginia sky. But in a season traditionally marked by celebrations of the spirit, Coalwood finds itself at a painful crossroads. The strains can be felt within the Hickam home, where a beleaguered HomerSr. is resorting to a daring but risky plan to keep the mine alive, and his wife Elsie is feeling increasingly isolated from both her family and the townspeople. And Sonny, despite a blossoming relationship with a local girl whose dreams are as big as his, finds his own mood repeatedly darkened by an unexplainable sadness. Eager to rally the town's spirits and make her son's final holiday season at home a memorable one, Elsie enlists Sonny and the Rocket Boys' aid in making the Coalwood Christmas Pageant the best ever. But trouble at the mine and the arrival of a beautiful young outsider threaten to tear the community apart when it most needs to come together. And when disaster strikes at home, and Elsie's beloved pet squirrel escapes under his watch, Sonny realizes that helping his town and redeeming himself in his mother's eyes may be a bigger-and more rewarding-challenge than he has ever faced. The result is pure storytelling magic- a tale of small-town parades and big-hearted preachers, the timeless love of families and unforgettable adventures of boyhood friends-that could only come from the man who brought the worldRocket Boys

Author Notes

Homer H. Hickam Jr. was born in 1943 in Coalwood, Va. and earned a degree in industrial engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1964. He served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1972, rising to the rank of captain. Hickam also served as an engineer at the Army Missile Command in Huntsville, Ala. and with the Army Corps of Engineers in West Germany. He has been with NASA since 1981.

Homer Hickam is a rare combination of practicing scientist and literate storyteller. As a NASA trainer he has taught astronauts to walk on the moon. As an author he has written a poignant, personal memoir about how he became an aerospace engineer.

In Rocket Boys (1998) Hickam tells how his fascination with rockets began in the 50s Sputnik space race, developed into a teenage rocket club, and led to Hickam's winning a gold and a silver medal at the National Science Fair in 1960. His inspiring story, told with honesty and humor, had its beginnings as an article in Smithsonian's Air and Space magazine in 1994 and is being adapted as a motion picture.

Hickam's other book Torpedo Junction: U-Boat War Off America's East Coast, 1942 (1989) is also praised as a literary achievement. It is a fascinating, fast-paced narrative that draws on his background as a scuba diver and explorer of sunken ships. Hickam has also written several shipwreck articles for major magazines.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This sequel to Rocket Boys (1998), which Hollywood parlayed into the movie October Sky, continues the author's life story with his senior year in high school, 1959, in the declining West Virginia mining town of Coalwood. The rocket club, featured in the last book, is pushed to the periphery, and the focus shifts to Hickam's teenage problems, which include his parents, girls, and a sadness whose cause he cannot divine. For advice, he consults his rocket-club pals and a minister, improbably named Little Richard, but they offer slight help. This memoir's main theme is the happenings in Coalwood and how they affect the Hickam household. For Coalwood was a coal-company town, and Hickam's father was the boss of the mine, and resented for it. In addition, Hickam's mother suffers a series of social reversals, and the dinner table soon becomes a tense, taciturn arena. The father wants to dig more coal; the mother wants to move away from Coalwood; and Homer wants to take Ginger Dantzler to the Christmas formal dance. Hickam develops these mini-dramas with anecdotes that are by turns lively, pensive, wry, or self-deprecating, yet none combine in a structural way to reach resolution. The memoir simply stops (after an interruption by a vicious crime) with Christmas carols. Although lacking the strong theme (winning a science fair) that lent Rocket Boys its charm, this profile of a town and a time partakes of a gritty nostalgia that will still entrance Hickam's fans. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Not really a sequel to Hickam's first memoir, Rocket Boys (which was made into the successful movie, October Sky, and dealt primarily with his gang of misfit friends and their inventive, adventurous exploits) this book, set around Christmas 1959, is a study of the town of Coalwood and how a fast-moving world affects a small community resistant to change and the introspective teenage boy in its midst. Hickman's reading is flawless. His voice and perspectiveÄas a man looking back on his childhoodÄconvincingly conveys experience and a reminiscent tone, while at the same time sounding so full of youthful exuberance that listeners will be certain they hear the voice of teenage Homer himself. Coalwood, W.Va., is a coal-mining town. Homer Hickam Sr., the author's father, is the superintendent of the mine and resented by the workers. To his children, he is a formidable man, and his imaginative second son, Homer Jr., aka "Sonny," obsessed with the 1950s space race, does not want to follow in his father's black, dusty footprints. With Christmas fast approaching, the tension in the town grows as layoffs threaten miners' jobs, until Sonny's father takes a huge risk to save them and the town's livelihood. Simultaneous release with the Dell hardcover (Forecasts, Sept. 18). (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this follow-up to his acclaimed Rocket Boys, retired NASA engineer Hickam recounts tensions in his household during his last Christmas before college, even as the Rocket Boys are drafted to help celebrate the holidays with a really big bang. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



OF ALL THE lessons I learned when I built my rockets, the most important were not about chemistry, physics, or metallurgy, but of virtues, sins, and other true things that shape us as surely as rivers carve valleys, or rain melts mountains, or currents push apart the sea. I would learn these lessons at a time when Coalwood, the mining town where I had lived my entire life, was just beginning to fade away. Yet, as the fall of 1959 began, and the leaves on the trees in the forests that surrounded us began to explode in spectacular color, Coalwood's men still walked with a trudging grace to and from the vast, deep mine, and its women bustled in and out of the company stores and fought the coal dust that drifted into theit homes. In the dark old schools, the children learned and the teachers taught, and, in snowy white churches built on hillside cuts, the preachers preached, and God, who we had no doubt was also a West Virginian, was surely doing His work in heaven, too At the abandoned slack dump we called Cape Coalwood, rockets still leapt into the air, and boyish voices yet echoed between ancient, worn mountains beneath a pale and watchful sky. Coalwood endured as it always had, but a wheel was turning that would change nearly everything, and no one, not even my father, would be able to stop it. When that brittle parchment autumn turned into our deepest, whitest winter, this and many other lessons would be taught. Though they were hard and sometimes cruel things to learn, they were true, and true things, as the people of Coalwood saw fit to teach me, are always filled with a shining glory. To me, there was no better time to launch a rocket than in the fall, especially a West Virginia fall. There seemed to be a cool, dry energy in the air that filled us with a renewed sense of hope and optimism. I had always believed that our rockets were lifted as much by our dreams as burning propellant, and as the lazy summer faded and a northerly wind swept down on us with its lively breath, anything seemed possible. It was also when the school year started and I always felt an excitement stir within me at the thought of learning new and wonderful things. Fall had other marvels, too. At the Cape, we were often treated to V-shaped flotillas of migrating Canadian geese, bound from the far north to places we had only read about or imagined. We always stopped our rocket preparations to gaze longingly at the great creatures as they winged their way high overhead, and to listen to their joyful honking that seemed to be calling us to join them. "If only we could," Sherman said once to my comment. "Even for just a moment, to look down on our mountains and see them the same as angels." Sherman always liked to remind us that we lived in a beautiful place and I guess we did, although sometimes it was easy to forget, especially since we'd never known anywhere else. Once, a rare snow goose, as purely white as moonbeams, landed on the old slack dump, perhaps fooled by the reflection from the slick surface of the coal tailings. We gathered around the great strutting bird, awed by the sight of her. Then I noticed that her wing tips were as black as the faces of Coalwood miners after a shift. O'Dell said the reason for the black tips was so the geese could see each other inside a white cloud. O'Dell knew a lot about animals so I believed his explanation, but it got me off to thinking. How did the snow geese decide what colors their feathers would be? Did they all get together up north somewhere a million years ago and take a vote? It was a mystery and the snow goose made no comment. She just looked annoyed. When she tired of us gawking at her, she flapped her wings and continued her journey, and I confess I was relieved. I knew the snow goose did not belong in Coalwood. Some people, especially my mother, said neither did I. Our first rocket of the fall was Auk XXII-E . A serious little rocket, it began its journey with a mighty spout of flame and tur-moil and its shock wave rattled our wooden blockhouse as it climbed. I ran outside with the other boys, but no matter how much I strained my eyes, I couldn't see it. All I could see were clouds that went, as far as I knew, all the way up to heaven. The seconds ticked by. We had never lost one of our rockets, but I was beginning to wonder if maybe this one was going to be our first. If it had fallen on Rocket Mountain, buried itself into the soft black West Virginia loam up there, maybe we had missed it. "Time, O'Dell," I called nervously. O'Dell looked at the stopwatch he'd borrowed last year from one of the coal company industrial engineers and forgotten to give back. "I think it's still flying," he said. "Then where is it?" I demanded. We couldn't lose it. Like every rocket we launched, it held answers we had to know. Excerpted from The Coalwood Way by Homer H. Hickam All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 Song of the Capep. 1
2 Poppyp. 16
3 In All My Born Daysp. 30
4 The Stoop Childrenp. 39
5 The Coalwood Women's Clubp. 44
6 Float Nightp. 58
7 Veterans Dayp. 66
8 A Rocket Kind of Dayp. 75
9 The Coalwood Skyp. 89
10 11 Eastp. 100
11 A Disaster of Squirrelsp. 106
12 Jake's Presentp. 114
13 Jim's Decisionp. 125
14 Snakeroot Hollowp. 135
15 A Cute Couplep. 148
16 Roy Lee's Lamentp. 156
17 The Gathering of the Greensp. 162
18 The Dugoutp. 172
19 Trigger and Championp. 178
20 Six Hollowp. 192
21 A Coalwood Girlp. 199
22 Back to the Drawing Boardp. 214
23 The Long Wallp. 223
24 The Starvation Armyp. 233
25 The Christmas Formalp. 245
26 The Second Sonp. 251
27 A Coalwood Weddingp. 263
28 Once Like the Beautiful Snowp. 270
29 Life Is What You Make Itp. 280
30 The Coalwood Wayp. 293
31 A Page from Jeremiahp. 295
32 The Kings of Coalwoodp. 299