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The Coalwood Series

There are actually four books in The Coalwood Series written by Homer Hickam, Jr.

Book 1 in the series:
Rocket Boys
(Also published under the title October Sky.)

Amazon.com Book Summary: Inspired by Werner von Braun and his Cape Canaveral team, 14-year-old Homer Hickam decided in 1957 to build his own rockets. They were his ticket out of Coalwood, West Virginia, a mining town that everyone knew was dying--everyone except Sonny's father, the mine superintendent and a company man so dedicated that his family rarely saw him. Hickam's smart, iconoclastic mother wanted her son to become something more than a miner and, along with a female science teacher, encouraged the efforts of his grandiosely named Big Creek Missile Agency. He grew up to be a NASA engineer and his memoir of the bumpy ride toward a gold medal at the National Science Fair in 1960--an unprecedented honor for a miner's kid--is rich in humor as well as warm sentiment. Hickam vividly evokes a world of close communal ties in which a storekeeper who sold him saltpeter warned, "Listen, rocket boy. This stuff can blow you to kingdom come." Hickam is candid about the deep disagreements and tensions in his parents' marriage, even as he movingly depicts their quiet loyalty to each other. The portrait of his ultimately successful campaign to win his aloof father's respect is equally affecting. --Wendy Smith

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Book 2 in the series:
The Coalwood Way

Amazon.com Book Summary: In this follow-up to his bestselling autobiography Rocket Boys, Homer Hickam chronicles the eventful autumn of 1959 in his hometown, the West Virginia mining town of Coalwood. Sixteen-year-old Homer and his pals in the Big Creek Missile Agency are high school seniors, still building homemade rockets and hoping that science will provide them with a ticket into the wider world of college and white-collar jobs. Such dreams make them suspect in a conservative small town where "getting above yourself" is the ultimate sin and where Homer's father, superintendent of the Coalwood mines, is stingy with praise and dubious about his son's ambitions. Homer's mother remains supportive, but bluntly reminds him, "You can't expect everything to go your way. Sometimes life just has another plan." Indeed, Hickam's unvarnished portrait of Coalwood covers class warfare (union miners battling with his authoritarian father), provincial narrow-mindedness (the local ladies scorn a young woman living outside wedlock with a man who abuses her), and endless gossiping along the picket "fence line." These sharp details make the unabashed sentiment of the book's closing chapters feel earned rather than easy. Hickam can spin a gripping yarn and keep multiple underlying themes and metaphors going at the same time. His tender but gritty memoir will touch readers' hearts and minds. --Wendy Smith

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Book 3 in the series:
Sky of Stone

From Publishers Weekly: Retired NASA engineer Hickam became a minor mass market celebrity in 1994 after a last-minute 2,000-word filler for Air & Space magazine (he spent three hours writing about launching homemade rockets in 1950s Coalwood, W.Va.) brought an avalanche of phone calls and letters. He expanded the article into 1998's bestselling Rocket Boys, filmed as the critically acclaimed October Sky (2001). Four hundred schools now use his memoirs in their curricula. The latest episode takes place in 1961 during young Hickam's first summer vacation from college, shortly after a foreman's death at the mine that Hickam's father supervises. Hickam (nicknamed Sonny) plans to read Robert A. Heinlein and meet girls in Myrtle Beach where his mother, Elsie, has a new dreamhouse, but Elsie insists he return home since his father is being accused of negligence in the foreman's death. Stuck in Coalwood, Sonny takes a difficult job laying track. Amid Sonny's travails with unrequited love, the track-laying competition and being stonewalled by his father and the locals when he asks anything about the death, state and federal inspectors arrive to investigate. Hickam prolongs the suspense in this cleverly constructed, richly detailed mystery peppered with colloquial dialogue and vivid characters. This pleasing book only reinforces his oeuvre.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Book 4 in the series:
We Are Not Afraid:
Strength and Courage from the Town That Inspired the #1 Bestseller and Award-Winning Movie "October Sky"

From Publishers Weekly: Hickam's latest book is a little different from the other feel-good stories that emerged nationwide after the September 11 attacks. What sets his stories apart is where they all take place: the mining town of Coalwood, W.Va., the setting for his bestselling memoirs Sky of Stone and October Sky. In this inspirational guide to overcoming fear, Hickam shares anecdotes from his life, mainly having to do with the values he learned in the small, humble town of Coalwood. Each chapter explains one of the "Coalwood Attitudes" ("we are proud of who we are"; "we stand up for what we believe"; "we keep our families together"; and "we trust in God but rely on ourselves"); Hickam then finishes by delivering the kicker (or "The Coalwood Assumption," as he calls it): "we are not afraid." Although it would be easy to dismiss his yarns and advice as hokey or cutesy, Hickam's retelling of a wholesome upbringing in Coalwood is quite touching and heartening, providing assistance for the uncertainty many Americans have dealt with recently and will continue to face in the months ahead. "In today's world, fear seems to be everywhere," he writes. "If you want to stop being afraid... this book can help by teaching you a philosophy of life that will fill your heart and soul with a sense of well-being and confidence." Reading about how Hickam handled bullies in the fifth grade or how he didn't let fear overcome him while fighting in Vietnam may not change what happened last September, but it will give readers the gumption to persevere when the going gets rough.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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on our Bookstore page.