About the Holiday
Today’s holiday recognizes the importance and beauty of the rock that forms solid ground under our feet and soars majestically to meet the sky. From earliest times, rock has been used as building material—and even the tools to build with—and has provided us with valuable gemstones that beautify our lives. Geology and archaeology are just two of the sciences that explore the wonders of stone—what it is composed of and what secrets it keeps. Today, be more mindful of the rocks around you and take a closer look at the intricate patterns that lie within them.
Rocks in His Head
Written by Carol Otis Hurst | Illustrated by James Stevenson
Carol Otis Hurst tells the story of her father, who—even when he was a boy—loved everything to do with rocks. He collected them and in his spare time walked “along stone walls and around old quarries, looking for rocks.” Everyone said “he had rocks in his pockets and rocks in his head,” and he had to agree. When he thought about what he wanted to do when he grew up, he imagined it would have something to do with rocks, and when he was told “‘There’s no money in rocks,’” he was okay with that. In the end, though, he opened a gas station in Springfield, Massachusetts with his father’s help. He called it the Antler Filling Station.
In the back of the filling station, Carol’s father displayed his rock and mineral collection. “He carefully labeled each rock to show what kind it was and where it had come from.” When the Model T automobile came out, more people could afford to buy a car. Carol’s father learned every inch of the Model T by taking it apart and reassembling it many times. He thought that someone who could repair the car and sell spare parts would have a good business, so he began collecting parts for the Model T—so many that “the pile of parts was bigger than the filling station.”
Most people in town said he “had rocks in his head” if he thought he would sell all those parts, but pretty soon drivers were flocking to the Antler Filling Station for gas and fixes to their cars. They also came inside to see the rocks, ask questions, and hear the stories of each rock and gemstone. Then the stock market crashed and people didn’t have the money for gas or to fix their cars. Things slowed down at the Antler, and when things were really slow, Carol, her father, and her friends would pile into their Model T and go searching for more rocks.
But while the collection at the filling station grew, people stopped coming because they were all out looking for jobs. Soon the Antler Filling Station closed and the family had to move to a new house. The house was falling apart, but Carol’s father began repairing it—after building shelves in the attic for his rock collection. When he wasn’t repairing the house, he was studying more about rocks. Along the way, he looked for work, taking any job he could even if they only lasted a day or two.
On days when he had no work, Carol’s father went to the Springfield Science Museum, where “they had a whole room full of glass cases containing many rocks. Sometimes he’d spend the whole day in that room.” One day, he met a woman who asked him what he was looking for. He answered “‘I’m looking for rocks that are better than mine.’” Out of the hundreds of rocks in that room, he told her, he’d only found ten, “‘maybe eleven,’” that were better. They smiled at each other.
Then the lady introduced herself as Grace Johnson, the director of the museum. “‘These rocks have come from all over the world,’” she told him, and he said that his had too. She wanted to see his collection, and so they drove out in her big car. Carol’s father showed her up to the attic. After looking around, she told him that while the board of directors wouldn’t allow her to hire him as a mineralogist because he lacked a college degree, she did need a night janitor. When he heard that the job sometimes included cleaning rocks, he took it.
One day, Mrs. Johnson discovered him correcting a label on one of the rocks. She smiled and told him that she had told the board of directors that she needed “‘somebody with rocks in his head and rocks in his pockets.’” Then she asked, “‘Are you it?’ Maybe I am,’” Carol’s father answered. “‘Maybe I am.’” And he was!
Carol Otis Hurst’s lovely and affectionate memoir of her father offers young readers a snapshot of history while introducing them to a man who stayed true to himself and his life-long love of rocks despite obstacles and good-natured jibes by those around him. Hurst’s easy-going, conversational storytelling represents her father well, allowing children to get a feel for his personality and steady outlook on life. His acceptance as a mineralogist (and ultimate position as director of the Springfield Science Museum as told in the author’s bio on the jacket flap) will satisfy readers.
James Stevenson’s familiar watercolor-and-ink illustrations are infused with charm, taking children beside an old stone wall that meanders through the woods, back to old-style filling stations and Model-T cars, and into the heart of a true collector. Images of the author’s father attentively setting up his collection in the filling station and later in the attic will resonate with any young collectors reading the book, and the full-page illustration of Grace Johnson and the author’s father talking and smiling together is happy validation that kindred spirits do cross paths in life.
For children who love collecting, history, museums, and biographies, Rocks in His Head is a delightful choice for home libraries and would make am appealing lead in to science lessons or museum field trips for elementary classrooms.
Ages 4 – 8
Greenwillow Books, 2001 | ISBN 978-0060294038
International Rock Day Activity
Rock This Craft!
Smooth stones can give you a natural canvas for your creativity! With a little bit of paint, pins or magnets, and some imagination, you can make refrigerator magnets, jewelry, paper weights, and more!
- Smooth stones in various sizes
- Paint or markers
- Small magnets, available at craft stores
- Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
- Paint brush
- Strong glue
To make magnets
- Design and paint an image on the stone
- Attach a magnet to the back with strong glue, let dry
- Use to hang pictures, notes, or other bits of important stuff on your refrigerator or magnetic board
To make jewelry
- Using a smaller, flatter stone, design and paint an image on the stone
- Attach a jewelry pin to the back with the strong glue, let dry
- Wear your pin proudly
To make a paper weight
- Using a large stone, design and paint an image on the stone
- Let dry
- Display and use on your desk to keep those papers in place
You can find Rocks in His Head at these booksellers
Picture Book Review