The Book of the Year Committee encourages teachers, book groups, and individuals to utilize the following set of study questions to enrich your understanding and discussions of October Sky. In addition, please also take a look at our Events Associated with the Book.
1. Describe the strengths and weaknesses of Coalwood.
2. How does Sonny feel about his father?
3. In what ways is Coalwood similar to your hometown? How is it different?
1. Have there been national events in your lifetime as significant as Sputnik? What were they? Why were they significant?
2. Are the students described typical of high school students?
3. Why do Jim and Homer Sr. appear to dislike Sonny?
1. In what way does the conflict between Elsie and Homer Sr. benefit Sonny?
2. How are the building of a rocket and the acquisition of and education connected in Elsie=s mind?
3. Is Homer Sr. a good, bad, or typical father? Is Elsie a good, bad, or typical mother?
1. When Big Creek High School is not allowed to play in the state football championship, how does Dad react? What is Mom's response?
2. What conflicts left over from the past seem to make Dad's feelings toward John Dubonnet especially bitter?
3. In Mr. Dubonnet's opinion, what change (or changes) has made modern coal mining more unhealthy than old-fashioned mining used to be? Why is this danger particularly relevant to Sonny's dad?
1. How does Quentin differ from most of the kids at Big Creek High School? Despite these differences, how are his circumstances similar to those of his other classmates?
2. Why does Mr. Dubonnet believe that Sonny should leave Coalwood after high school?
3. What do you think motivates Dorothy to ask Sonny to her home for a study date?
1. How does Emily Sue assess Sonny's, Jim's, and Dorothy's characters?
2. In what essential way does Mr. Bykovsky assist the Big Creek Missile Agency? Why do you think he wants to help Sonny?
3. What happens with the launch of Auk IV that gets Sonny in trouble?
1. How did Sonny, his mother, and Mr. Bykovski react to his father's reassignment of Mr. Bykovski?
2. How did the Great Six teachers work behind the scenes to influence change in Coalwood?
3. What was the purpose of Reverend Lanier's sermon? To whom was it directed?
1. How were the two main subjects of Mr. Turner's speech to the high school linked?
2. Why does Sonny's father look at Sonny with "some confusion, almost as if he had never looked at him before" (141)?
3. What does Sonny learn about his parents' relationship from eavesdropping on their behavior before sleep?
1. Although there were many differences between Jake Moseby and Sonny, why did they become friends?
2. How did Sonny 's parents' relationship change while on vacation?
3. What is the hardest thing Sonny 's father says he has ever learned? Is he simply referring to thermodynamics?
1) How does Mr. Van Dyke settle the issue of the theft of the telephone equipment?
2) Why is this school year different than others?
3) Which of the experiences in this chapter do you think is most important to Sonny? Why?
1) What is "rocket candy" made of?
2) What are Sonny's father's motives in taking Sonny on a tour of the mine?
3) Why is Sonny's mother so angry with Sonny's father for taking Sonny into the mine?
1) How is Sonny able to obtain the material and work need to build the Auk XIV?
2) What does Sonny go to ask Mr. Bykovski?
3) What do Quentin and Sonny agree about their rocket experiments after the launch of Auk XV?
1) How does Sonny nearly die in sledding home?
2) What does Sonny learn from Geneva Eggers that gives him a larger and more positive picture of his father than he had previously had?
3) What story does his father later tell him about Geneva Eggers that again changes the simplistic way he has thought of his father to this point?
1) What principle behind the De Laval nozzle made it a more efficient model than the ones the boys had been building previously?
2) What subject would the boys need to learn to build a De Laval nozzle?
3) How are his father's and Sonny's stories paralleled in this chapter?
1. How did Mr. Hartsfield believe Big Creek High School was regarded? Who
else believed this wss how the school was seen?
2. How did Sonny 's father indirectly help Sonny teach himself calculus?
3. Although Sonny valued Quentin's friendship and his membership in the
BCMA, was Sonny also aware of Quentin's less admirable traits? Give an
example of Quentin displaying such a trait.
1. Explain Quentin and Mr. Caton's difference of opinion concerning design
changes. What made each of them think he was right?
2. What actually pushed Sonny into entering the science fair?
3. Describe the dynamics of Sonny 's family up to this point in the story.
Explain the relationship of each parent to each son, the relationship
between the brothers, and the relationship between the parents.
1. What kind of music did Ed Johnson and his devotees prefer?
2. Describe the changes in mood Sonny experienced on the night he went to
the Dugout. How did he feel on the way to the Dugout and while he was first
there? How did he feel when he saw Dorothy, when he was with Valentine, and
when he was with Buck?
3. How does the tone of the final scene of this chapter, when Sonny returns
home, compare with the tone of the earlier scenes?
1. Why was Sonny so devastated by the death of Mr. Bykovski?
2. Doc said, "Coalwood is no place to be weak, but if you are, keep it to
yourself and get the hell out of here as soon as you can." Do you agree
with this assessment of Coalwood? Support your opinion using a character
from the novel.
3. What was the worst thing Sonny had ever felt, and what made him feel
1. During his conversation with Miss Riley, what did Sonny mean by "the
West Virginia thing?"
2. There was a change in Sonny after Mrs. Bykovski's bus pulled out. What
was this change? What caused it?
3. Why do you believe Sonny didn't explain to the other boys in the BCMA
his reason for switching from rocket candy to zinc dust and sulfur? Was it
because he didn't have time to explain everything, as he told Roy Lee, or
was there a different reason?
1) At the start of the chapter, what is Sonny's state of mind due to his family's situation?
2) How does the boys' plan to make money backfire on them?
3) Who comes to their financial rescue and how?
1) Why is it necessary to find a binding agent for the zinc-sulfer mixture?
2) What do the boys find as a binding agent and how does that get them into trouble?
3) How do the townspeople treat Mr. Fuller and why?
1) Why did the Auk XXIII not achieve the altitude that Sonny had calculated it would?
2) How are the boys able to afford their continuing rocket construction after Auk XXIII uses up the last of their funds?
3) Why does Sonny's father object to John F. Kennedy as a presidential candidate?
1) Why does Sonny get sick and what eventually relieves this illness?
2) What becomes of Pooky and his family?
3) Why does Sonny choose not to have Roy Lee tell him who killed Daisy Mae?
1) What kind of suit does Sonny initially buy?
2) Why does John F. Kennedy first draw such a cool response from the crowd?
3) When Emily Sue forces Sonny to buy a more conservative suit, how does he quietly rebel?
1) Whom does Sonny befriend at the fair and what is their connection?
2) In a conversation with Jake, what does Sonny admit scares him?
3) When Sonny calls home after the nozzles have been stolen, what is the status of the strike in Coalwood?
1) Which of the six rockets they launched this day goes highest? And how high does it go?
2) Why does Sonny's father's act of signing the contract with the miners present itself as an interference with Sonny's mom's desire to move to Myrtle Beach?
3) What is ironic about the interaction between Sonny and his father after the launch of the last rocket?
1) How does Sonny achieve his dream?
2) What does Sonny find in the box his father left for him?
3) What does Sonny do with what he finds?