Freeport Public Library – One Book, One Freeport 2015
Playing with the Enemy
One Book, One Freeport

One Book, One Freeport 2015: Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.

The Book

Every person has a story to tell. The New York Times #1 bestselling memoir that inspired the film October Sky, Rocket Boys is a uniquely American memoir – a powerful, luminous story of coming of age at the dawn of the 1960s, of a mother's love and a father's fears, of a group of young men who dreamed of launching rockets into outer space...and who made those dreams come true.

With the grace of a natural storyteller, NASA engineer Homer Hickam paints a warm, vivid portrait of the harsh West Virginia mining town of his youth, evoking a time of innocence and promise, when anything was possible, even in a company town that swallowed its men alive. A story of romance and loss, of growing up and getting out, Homer Hickam's lush, lyrical memoir is a chronicle of triumph – at once exquisitely written and marvelously entertaining. Back to top

The Author

Homer H. Hickam, Jr. was born on February 19, 1943, and was raised in Coalwood, West Virginia. He graduated from Big Creek High School in 1960 and from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) in 1964 with a BS degree in Industrial Engineering. A U.S. Army veteran, Mr. Hickam served as a First Lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1967-1968 where he won the Army Commendation and Bronze Star medals. He served six years on active duty, leaving the service with the rank of Captain.

While working on his writing career, Mr. Hickam was employed as an engineer for the U.S. Army Missile Command from 1971 to 1981 assigned to Huntsville, Alabama, and Germany. He began employment with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at Marshall Space Flight Center in 1981 as an aerospace engineer. During his NASA career, Mr. Hickam worked in spacecraft design and crew training. His specialties at NASA included training astronauts on science payloads and extravehicular activities (EVA). He also trained astronaut crews for many Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment mission, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J (the first Japanese astronauts), and the Solar Max repair mission. Prior to his retirement in 1998, Mr. Hickam was the payload training manager for the International Space Station Program.

Hickam has been a writer since 1969 after his return from Vietnam. His first book was about the battle against the U-boats along the American east coast during World War II, Torpedo Junction (1989), a military history bestseller published in 1989 by the Naval Institute Press. In 1998, Delacorte Press published Hickam's second book, Rocket Boys: A Memoir, the story of his life in the little town of Coalwood, West Virginia. It became an instant classic. He continues to write and has published both adult and children’s books. Back to top

Calendar of Events

The 2015 Calendar includes a variety of interesting programs designed to capture your interest, including:

Free Book Giveaways of Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.

Book Discussions

See below.


Two movies and a play

Lectures, including the annual American History Lecture Series, featuring topics related to the Space Race, rockets and coal mining. Talks will be held at the Freeport Public Library and will begin at 7 p.m.

Children’s Programs

An Author and Rockets Launching

Event Location Address/Phone

1100 W Galena Ave
Freeport, IL 61032

Freeport Art Museum
121 N Harlem Avenue
Freeport, IL 61032

Freeport Public Library
100 E Douglas Street
Freeport , IL 61032

Freeport/Stephenson County Visitors Center
4596 U.S. 20
Freeport, IL 61032

Highland Community College
2998 W Pearl City Road
Freeport, IL 61032

Liberty Village
2140 Navajo Drive
Freeport, IL 61032

Lindo Theatre
115 S Chicago Avenue
Freeport, IL 61032

Parkview Home
1234 S Park Blvd
Freeport, IL 61032

Pearl City Public Library
221 S Main Street
Pearl City, IL 61061

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
2700 W Stephenson Street
Freeport, IL 61032

9426 W Wagner Road
Lena, IL 61048

United Presbyterian Church
302 W Stephenson Street
Freeport, IL 61032

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Book Discussions & Guide

Listing of Book Discussions

Questions for your Book Discussions

  1. After Homer saw Sputnik as it flew over, he stated that “I was a boy in Coalwood, West Virginia. All of a sudden, that wasn’t good enough.” What do you think he meant by this statement?
  2. Describe Homer’s first attempt at building a rocket.
  3. How did Homer’s mother and father each respond to the destruction of the rose-garden fence? Why do you think they had such a different response?
  4. Describe the United States’ first attempt to put a satellite into orbit. Did this event encourage or discourage Homer in his rocket building attempts? Explain.
  5. Who were the members of the BCMA and what were their jobs? What do you think is the significance of the name they chose for their rockets? What problems did the boys encounter in flying Auk I – IV?
  6. Although their methods were not scientific, how did their pop bottle experiments teach them about fuel?
  7. Describe the event that changed Homer’s father’s mind about the rocket building. How did he show his support of Homer after this event?
  8. What is the effect of Sonny’s discussion with Ike Bykovsky about Werner von Braun?
  9. Miss Riley gave Homer the book, Principles of Guided Missile Design. When he tried to thank her she stated. “All I’ve done is given you a book. You have to have the courage to learn what’s inside it.” Discuss what you think she meant by this statement.
  10. Explain the concept behind the DeLaval nozzle and its significance for the project. Describe the new propellant that the boys wanted to begin using and why a new fuel was needed.
  11. Why is the club’s decision regarding entering the Science Fair competition a key to the outcome of their story?
  12. Describe the event(s) that caused Homer to temporarily lose interest in building his rockets? Why do you think he had this response?
  13. In Miss Riley’s attempts to motivate Homer to continue work on his rockets, she tells him that it is his “job to build your rockets...because it honors you and this school.” What do you think she meant by this statement?
  14. Describe Homer’s difficulties while at the National Science Fair? What do you think these experiences taught him?
  15. As Homer encourages his father to launch the final rocket, he tells him “A rocket won’t fly unless someone lights the fuse.” O’Dell made a similar statement when they launched their first rocket. What do you think is the significance of this statement?
  16. As you read this memoir, did you begin to feel as if you know the people involved? Did you like them?
  17. Do you think Homer Senior and Elsie love each other? What is the principle cause of their conflicts?
  18. In the first paragraph of the book, Homer writes that his hometown was “at war with itself over its children.” What does this mean?
  19. This is also a story about the rewards and costs of nonconformity. Who confirms, who doesn’t and what is the consequence of their actions?
  20. How important is Miss Riley to this story?
  21. Do you see any similarities between Coalwood of the fifties and Freeport now?
  22. Who would you recommend reading this book? Or do you have a different title you would recommend?
  23. Do you have suggestions for the next One Book, One Freeport selection?

> Download the Discussion Guide Back to top

Sponsors & Partnering Agencies

One Book, One Freeport is truly a community program. The partnering agencies make it all happen, providing funding or programming assistance. Most funding is provided by grants or community donations. We are thankful for all the support we receive.

The 2015 program is being funded by...

The Freeport Public Library Foundation

A good public library has to have adequate public support. To be great, a public library must also have private funding.

The Freeport Public Library Foundation helps keep our library great. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to attracting, managing, and allocating funding for the Freeport Public Library, thereby enriching the cultural, educational, and social resources of the community. It is the channel through which charitable contributions to the library are received and processed.

Organized in 1993, the foundation aids the library by providing assistance for technologies, materials, programs, and services that are beyond the scope of the library's operating budget.

Your gifts may be made in the present or in the future through a trust or will. The Foundation is a charitable organization under Federal law, making all gifts tax-deductible. For more information, visit

The Community Foundation of Northern Illinois

Founded in 1953 as a public charity, CFNIL is the area’s leading provider of grants and scholarships. With more than $85 million in assets and more than 400 individual funds, CFNIL provides charitable dollars, provided by generous donors, to the Northern Illinois community.

Funds at CFNIL are prudently invested and preserved as a way to provide permanent funding for community needs. Investment income is distributed to nonprofit agencies in the form of grants and scholarships, helping our community respond to the many needs of today and tomorrow. Nearly 90% of CFNIL's assets are permanently endowed, meaning that those assets will serve Boone, Ogle, Stephenson and Winnebago Counties in perpetuity. For more information, visit

The Illinois Humanities Council

The Illinois Humanities Council is an educational organization dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities. Through its programs and grants, the IHC promotes greater understanding of, appreciation for, and involvement in the humanities by all Illinoisans, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. Organized as a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1973, the IHC is now a private nonprofit (501 [c] 3) organization that is funded by contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations; by the Illinois General Assembly through the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; and by the NEH. The IHC creates and funds numerous humanities activities throughout the state, including library discussions, seminars, lectures, performances, exhibitions, films, and written materials. Through these activities, the IHC serves as a catalyst in imaginative ventures which bring scholarship into the public forum. All our programs utilize a broad definition of the humanities -- their topics can range from history and literature to philosophy, folklore, historic preservation, archaeology, jurisprudence or comparative religion -- but all are committed to providing lifelong learning. The IHC has been at the crossroads of ideas, energizing cultural and civic life in Illinois for more than 35 years. - See more at


FHN is a regional healthcare system committed to the health and well-being of the people of northwest Illinois and southern Wisconsin. They have services nearby for all ages, so every member of your family can receive caring, personal, professional healthcare.

An average of 1,400 people visit FHN each day for their healthcare needs (that's more than 525,000 patient visits per year). FHN is the only healthcare provider in our service area that offers affiliations with all three major hospitals in Rockford, Illinois, as well as with the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin.

They see each patient interaction as a serious responsibility that requires clinical expertise, access to the latest in medical technology and a level of trust and commitment that is earned by their people, their products and their processes. For more information, visit

Journal Standard

The Journal-Standard is your source for the latest breaking local news, sports, weather, business, jobs, real estate, shopping, health, travel and entertainment. The paper is published every day except Monday. For more information go to

Special Recognition

Recognition must be given to a variety of individuals/organizations who made this program work. This includes everyone who is presenting programs, the directors and staff of our partnering agencies, the book clubs who opened their groups to us, and volunteers helping with each of the programs. Special mention is due to:

“Masters of the Muck: Coal Mining in America”, the display at the Freeport Art Museum was made possible by the following:

Partnering Agencies

Partnering agencies provide the energy that make this program work. Please thank them for their continuing aid and support:

Freeport Public Library Illinois Humanities Council Freeport Art Museum The Journal-Standard FSD145 - Freeport School District Stephenson County Historical Society Community Foundation of Northern Illinois Highland Community College O’Mara Moving & Storage Stephenson County Convention and Visitor’s Center FHN Classic Cinemas Lindo Theater University of Illinois Extension Aquin Catholic Schools

Donations from You

Any tax-free donations would be greatly appreciated to help fund this program in the future. Please forward your letters to:

One Book, One Freeport
Freeport Public Library
100 E. Douglas Street
Freeport, IL 61032 Back to top

About Us

The "One Book" movement began in 1998 when Nancy Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book in the Seattle Public Library, initiated "If All Seattle Read the Same Book." With funding from the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund and several local sponsors, she invited members of the public to read the novel "The Sweet Hereafter" by Russell Banks, and brought the author to Seattle for three days in December to discuss his book in a series of free public programs.

The mission of the program at the Freeport Public Library is to encourage a shared reading experience, foster a sense of community and promote literacy to people of all ethnic backgrounds, economic levels and ages. Based on similar programs in communities across the country, One Book, One Freeport provides free copies of a selected book and coordinates educational programs and events to explore topics related to the book.

The inaugural program ran in January and February of 2011, featuring the book Playing with the Enemy by Gary Moore. The Freeport community enthusiastically embraced the program. Participation was high and reviews were positive.

The second program began January 5, 2013 and ran through April 7, 2013. It featured I Came A Stranger by Hilda Satt Polacheck. The displays were a great addition to the program. Copies of the book were given to other libraries and schools in Stephenson County, widening the audience.

Committee members for One Book, One Freeport 2015:

For more information, comments or suggestions about One Book, One Freeport, please contact:

Pat Vorwald
Head of Adult Services
Freeport Public Library
100 E. Douglas Street
Freeport, IL 61032
815-233-3000 x221
815-297-8236 fax Back to top

For the Media

02/09/2015: One Book, One Freeport: Free Books and Programs for the Community
02/09/2015: $5,000 One Book, One Freeport Grant Awarded to Freeport Public Library Back to top