Imagine it’s 1957 in a small town called Coalwood in a state in America called West Virginia.

One of these pins is Newcastle in England.

The other is Coalwood in America.

Which is which?

At that time, nearly everybody in Coalwood worked for one company in one place and there’s a clue in the name of the town that might help you guess what that job was.

Can YOU guess what it was?

The company that everyone worked for built houses for its employees and shops, where you couldn’t really spend money. You had to spend special tokens that they paid you for working for them.

Have you guessed what the job was in Coalwood yet?

In the year 1900 Coalwood didn’t exist. It was only built in 1905 after someone found something in the ground and dug a big, deep hole to get more of it. People came to live there and in just a few years over two thousand people lived in the town, nearly all of them working for the company.

Yes, Coalwood was a coal mining town and most people worked at the coal mine owned by the company. They dug a million tons of coal out of the ground every year.

What do you think a million tons of coal a year looks like?

This is a photo of Welsh coal trucks at Cardiff Docks in 1927.

If each truck contains ten tons of coal, how much coal is in this photo?

When you look at this photo, just think how every piece of coal there was dug out underground and lifted into trucks by hand by men.

Dads worked there, their dads had worked there and grandsons were expected to work there because there weren’t many other jobs in town and Coalwood was miles from anywhere else.


It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

Less than a hundred years later, the company closed the coal mine and today hardly anyone lives in Coalwood anymore. Even the school whose students made the town world famous is run down and derelict now.

If you ever go to the town, on the road in you’ll see a sign saying Coalwood, and underneath it a sign saying ‘Home of the Rocket Boys’.


So let me tell you a little bit about The Rocket Boys, who were a group of young friends, including a boy called Homer Hickam.

Homer’s Dad was a boss at the coal mine and really hoped that Homer would work hard and do well at school and go to University so he could become a Mining Engineer. Homer’s dad had never been to university and wanted his son to do better than he had and get a really good job as he had to work really really hard, often underground.

The National Coal Mine Museum in South Wales

It's free to visit and you can go underground. How do yo think you get underground?

On a ladder/ Steps?

But Homer really didn’t want to be a coal miner. He’d seen not only how hard his dad and the other men had to work, and while Homer wasn’t afraid of hard work, he also saw how the microscopic coal dust in the underground tunnels in the in the coal mine dust had made his father dangerously ill. Other men got ill retired and stopped working, but Homer’s dad wouldn’t stop.

It was as if the coal mine was his life.

No, Homer didn’t want to be a coal miner.

And wanted a more exciting life.


Homer didn’t have any sisters and just one older and sporty brother called Jim, who was determined that he wasn’t going to work in the coal mine.

One of the most important things that a dad or a mum or anyone caring for children can do is help them think what they want to be when they grow up or do when they leave school. And help them follow that dream.

Many, many young people love playing sport and dream of playing for their favourite team and getting paid lots of money. Or they might learn a musical instrument and love playing with a dream of being a famous pop star.

Many people do this and for that reason not everyone can, maybe because there aren’t enough jobs for everyone, or things might change and unforeseen things happen

For example any one can easily break their leg, just by slipping while walking on ice. If you’d had a dream of playing professional football your dreams would be over if you broke your leg and you’d have to think of and find something else to do.

If you had not worked on other subjects because you only had a plan to be a footballer – your favourite plan, let’s call it Plan A, you might have to go back to school to get your qualifications or get a poorly paid job that didn’t need qualifications.

That’s why it’s always important to have a Plan B, think of it like a back up plan.

Jim’s Plan A

So, did you guess why Jim was so confident he wasn’t going to work in the coal mine?

Well he was good at football. Very good and his dream, or his Plan A was to be a professional football player which meant he could go to University and play in their team and then play professionally and make a good living.

His Plan B was to work in the coal mine but only if he had to.

But he didn’t, Jim made it as a professional football layer and had a great career in the sports world.

Homer’s Plan Z

The fact is that Homer didn’t have a Plan A and didn’t have any idea what he was going to do. He didn’t even like to think he had a Plan B to go and work in the coal mine, it was more of a Plan Z as it was the last thing he wanted to do.

Then one night he was out with his friends and saw something in the night sky that gave him an idea, to make something.

The first thing he made from a piece of pipe and some dynamite he got from the coal mine failed badly and nearly killed him. But his mum encouraged him to have another go.

So he tried again and that time he nearly knocked the coal mine down. His dad was really cross and told him to stop it and spend his time studying to go to university and come and work i the coal mine.

Homer didn’t know what to do or who to ask as he didn’t want to work in the coal mine so he asked one person, a person you can always speak to about any problems you might have in life gave him a book that told him what to do.

Homer tried and tried and tried again and after a year or so succeeded.

Homer and he friends were famous for what they had achieved not only in their town but eventually across the whole world.

Homer’s Plan A

Homer and his friends had learned to make rockets and made a rocket that went 6 miles high in the sky.

This is a photo of the actor who played Homer Hickam in the film version of Rocket Boys.

(Photo: Universal Studios)

A photo of the Rocket Boys taken in 1960 - Homer 'Sonny' Hickam, Quentin Wilson, Roy Lee Cooke, Sherman Siers, Jimmy "O'Dell" Carroll, and Billy Rose in Coalwood with their last rocket.

Homer went to University and then to work for NASA, The North American Space Agency who were responsible for America’s space programme. Homer trained astronauts that worked on the space shuttle and the International Space Station.

After that he wrote his story in a book called ‘Rocket Boys’ which was made into a film called ‘October Sky’.

By being interested in rockets, by reading about how they worked and by making them Homer made a Plan A for himself, to work in the world of rockets.

His Plan B (or Plan Z) was never far behind.

But the interesting thing is that he ended up with a Plan C - a career as a successful author as he has written a number of successful books using his imagination and creativity to have great ideas for stories.

The lesson for Homer Hickam’s story is to always be interested, work hard and keep your options open and be prepared to seize any opportunities that come along.


We’ve deliberately not told you the full Rocket Boys story here as we didn’t want to spoil it for you as you really should read the book.

Whatever you do, don’t watch the film first, before you read the book.

Why do you think you should read a book before you watch the film and never watch the film first?

When you read a book you use your imagination and make it yours.

Also, we’d love to come to your school with our Art of Rockets Session, where we’ll tell you the ‘Rocket Boys’ story, make and fire paper rockets with you that can go over a house and then launch a real dynamite rocket in your playground.

We hope you enjoyed this story.


Nick Corston is the co-founder of STEAM Co. and his dad is 83 now and found a copy of ROcket Boys in a box of books someone had dropped off to be sold.

He read it and gave it to Nick saying it was the best book he's ever read. Nick read it and connected with Homer Hickam who gave Nick and STEAM CO. permission to use it in the #RocketKids session which has been seen now by thousands of chidlren, teachers and other dads and creative carers.

If you want to buy a copy of Rocket Boys to read yourself, click here.


Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a copyright violation, please follow the DMCA section in the Terms of Use.