Faculty Favorite: Mr. Simeck


Well-known factoid: The movie October Sky was inspired by the book, Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickham, Jr. Lesser known factoid: The letters in the words ‘October Sky,’ when jumbled, spell out the words ‘Rocket Boys.’ And why is this important? Because it spells out this week’s Faculty Favorite–and it’s Mr. Simeck’s favorite read!


“This book is what is known as a ‘driveway book on tape,’ meaning that you’ll sit in your driveway and listen because it’s so funny, engaging, and well written,” says Mr. Simeck. “The book is a memoir of a boy and his friends growing up in Coalwood, West Virginia, and how they experimented, struggled, and slowly succeeded at improving their rockets using whatever resources they could piece together. From blowing up his mother’s fence to nearly burning the house down, the author tells trials and lessons of adolescence and young adulthood with the support of many caring adults around him despite incredibly limited resources.”

This # 1 New York Times best-selling memoir is just one of Hickham’s many best-selling titles. His first book, Torpedo Junction, was recently optioned for a major motion picture.

Want to know more about Rocket Boys? Read the synopsis below from Goodreads.com. Be sure to stop in to check out our copy of October Sky.

And thank you, Mr. Simeck, for your contribution to our blog!

“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 mining company town where the only things that mattered were coal mining and high school football and where the future was regarded with more fear than hope.

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.

In 1957 a young man watched the Soviet satellite Sputnik shoot across the Appalachian sky and soon found his future in the stars. ‘Sonny’ and a handful of his friends, Roy Lee Cook, Sherman O’Dell and Quentin Wilson were inspired to start designing and launching the home-made rockets that would change their lives forever.

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.

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.

A uniquely endearing book 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.

In 1999, Rocket Boys was made into a Hollywood movie named October Sky starring Chris Cooper, Jake Gyllenhaal and Laura Dern. October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys. It is also used in a period radio broadcast describing Sputnik 1 as it crossed the ‘October sky’. Homer Hickam stated that “Universal Studios marketing people got involved and they just had to change the title because, according to their research, women over thirty would never see a movie titled Rocket Boys” so Universal Pictures changed the title to be more inviting to a wider audience. The book was later re-released with the name October Sky in order to capitalize on interest in the movie.