‘How Rocket Boys’ Evolved into ‘Carrying Albert Home’, by Homer Hickam

• Nov 17, 2015 • Tags: , , ,

On Thursday the 19th of November, the legendary Homer Hickam will have two very special books published by HarperCollins Fiction, and by 4th Estate. HarperCollins are releasing Carrying Albert Home, while we at 4th Estate are reissuing the very-much-still-in-demand Rocket Boys. Homer Hickam was kind enough to write something for us about how one very much became the other, so many years later…

My most popular book to date is Rocket Boys, a memoir I wrote about growing up in the West Virginia coalfields during the 1950s. It’s about six boys, all sons of coal miners, who decided to join the space race after Russia launched the first space satellite in 1957. I was the leader of those boys. Soon, with explosions and the stink of propellant wafting through the air, the residents of the little town of Coalwood were not certain what to make of this group of  upstart ‘rocket boys.’ Our activities also brought out an underlying and long-standing argument between my parents, Homer and Elsie Hickam, as to why they were even in Coalwood and whether it was the best place to raise their two sons.


When the book came out, it was a big hit and then a movie was made loosely based on it titled October Sky. It was an OK film but I didn’t like at all how the movie portrayed my mother. It showed her satisfied with her lot in life and a wimp around her husband and nothing could be farther from the truth! I was quite often asked to speak about the book and the movie and took that as an opportunity to tell about the true nature of my mother. She was, I explained, an ambitious, headstrong, and talented artist who stood up for herself and detested the coalfields! To make that better understood, I began to tell the story of Albert. After high school, my future mom, Elsie Lavender, headed for Florida to get away from West Virginia. There, she met a promising young man by the name of Buddy Ebsen and they fell in love. But Buddy was destined to go off to Hollywood and become a famous actor and Elsie destined to go back to the coalfields and reluctantly marry a young miner named Homer Hickam. Before too long, Buddy sent Elsie a wedding gift to remind her of Florida. It was a baby alligator!


The tiny reptile was a sweet little fellow and Elsie instantly adored him. She named him Albert and raised him in the bathtub until he got big enough to chase Homer out of the house – whereupon her husband began to shout, ‘It’s me or this alligator, Elsie!’ After a few days of thinking it over, Elsie said, “All right, I’ll let Albert go. But we have to carry him home to Florida.”

This began a great journey with a love-besotted Homer at the wheel of a 1925 Buick ragtop, a scheming Elsie in the passenger seat, a cheerful Albert in a washtub in the back seat and, for reasons still not understood, a somewhat intellectual rooster.  It would turn out to be a lot more than a road trip.  Elsie, you see, had no intention of ever returning to West Virginia. And so hangs the tale (or “tail,” since this is about an alligator) of Carrying Albert Home


Carrying Albert Home and Rocket Boys are both published on Thursday 19th of October

You can win a copy of each book over at @4thEstateBooks

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