The following is the first posting of Carol’s Comments by Carol Rusinek.
Hello, everyone! Welcome to Carol’s Comments. I am a volunteer at River Park Branch Library. I was a reference librarian at Indiana University Northwest (IUN) Library in Gary, Indiana, for 16 years. While working there, I edited an online newsletter that promoted new library products, events and services. From 2000-2006, I also served on an American Library Association virtual committee that reviewed and selected the Best Free Reference Web Sites. After leaving the IUN Library and returning to my hometown of South Bend, I now have the time to indulge in two of my favorite passions: reading for pleasure and critiquing movies.
This month, the St Joseph County Public Library launches its second annual One Book, One Michiana campaign. This year’s featured book is Rocket Boys: A Memoir by Homer H. Hickham, Jr. Although I’m not usually attracted to books about the physical sciences, I was still intrigued by this engaging autobiography which accurately depicts growing up in late 1950’s Cold War America.
The story begins in the coal mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia, shortly after the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite in October 1957. Not only did this momentous event propel the United States into a space race with the Soviet Union, it also motivated Homer Hickham and his friends to build and launch their own rockets despite his mine superintendent father’s disapproval.
Overcoming many obstacles and setbacks to achieve their goals, the “Rocket Boys” receive lots of encouragement from the townspeople, especially their high school science teacher Miss Riley. She convinces them that their amateur rocketry techniques are good enough to exhibit at the county science fair.
Ultimately, the book’s most pivotal scene occurs when Homer’s father takes him down to the mine and tries to persuade him that his destiny is mining, not becoming a rocket engineer. At that moment, Homer realizes that emulating rocket scientist Wernher von Braun is more important than working with his father in a dying industry. Homer eventually wins his father’s approval when the “Rocket Boys” triumph at the National Science Fair in Indianapolis.
For the scientifically challenged like myself, October Sky, the 1999 screen adaptation of Rocket Boys, is a real treat. Lewis Colick’s succinct screenplay successfully condenses the book’s scientific aspects and instead concentrates on Homer and his friends’ efforts to build and fly amateur rockets. The film also focuses on Homer’s determination to escape the coal mines and pursue a scientific career that he loves.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s and Chris Cooper’s superb performances as Homer Hickham and his father realistically portray the conflict between father and son. Furthermore, the movie also dramatically illustrates how a teacher’s support can inspire their students to literally reach for the stars. October Sky is a very uplifting and inspirational film. I recommend seeing the movie after reading Hickham’s memoir.
From April 1 through May 7, the St Joseph County Public Library will be sponsoring a variety of activities related to this book that include teen and adult book discussion groups and movie showings. For a complete list of events throughout the Michiana community, visit SJCPL’s web site at www.libraryforlife.org. See you next month and thanks for reading!