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Recommended reading levels: Heinlein’s young adult or “juvenile” fiction appeals to readers of many ages, from early middle-school readers to adults. For use in the classroom, Rolling Stones is probably most appropriate for readers in grades 5-10. Rolling Stones has been listed on several recommended reading lists for children and young adults, including those of The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (“Recommended Reading for Children and Young Adults” by the staff of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, revised December 2007, and The Golden Duck Awards for Excellence in Children’s Science Fiction recommended reading list (

Biographical information on Robert Heinlein:

Robert Anson Heinlein is known as one of the “founding fathers” of modern science fiction. He was a prolific, successful, and at times controversial, contributor to the development of the genre. Born in Butler, Missouri on July 7, 1907, Heinlein graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1929 and served in the Navy during the 1930’s. Forced to retire from the Navy because of tuberculosis, he soon found another career in writing. He first published a short story in late 1939 in Astounding Science Fiction, one of the “pulps,” magazines published on cheap (pulp) paper that catered to popular tastes for genre fiction (mystery, romance, detective, adventure, horror and science fiction stories, among others). He was a regular contributor to science fiction pulp magazines for the first several years of his career. He hit his stride as a novelist after World War II, publishing fourteen “juvenile” novels aimed at the young adult market as well as many novels for adults. Some of his most popular works are The Puppet Masters (1951), Double Star (1956), The Door into Summer (1957), Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), and Time Enough for Love (1973). Heinlein died in Carmel, California on May 8, 1988. For more biographical details, see the following articles:

Suggested class activity:

Have your students read the information on Heinlein above before they begin the book. There are many parallels between Heinlein and Roger Stone, the father of the clan in The Rolling Stones. Ask them to make notes of similarities as they read and, when they finish, write an essay on how Heinlein put his own history, interests, and attitudes into the character of Roger.

For further information on Heinlein and his work:

Background: Scribner’s first published The Rolling Stones in 1952. As William H. Patterson, Jr. points out in his introduction to the Baen edition, Heinlein’s book taps into a particular strain in the American psyche which expressed itself after World War II in the desire of families to pick up, pack up and set out to explore America together. Although Heinlein projected this restlessness and spirit of adventure out into the solar system, its roots are deeply embedded in America’s pioneer past. Steve A. Hughes, in his afterword to the Baen edition, “The Endless Frontier,” provides a rich analysis of the story’s roots in the mythos and sociology of the American Frontier.

Plot Summary: The lively Stone family—grandmother Hazel, father Roger, mother Edith, teenage twins Castor and Pollux, older sister Meade and younger brother Lowell (“Buster”)—live in Luna City, an established human colony on the Moon. The twins, budding entrepreneurs, want to buy a used spaceship and become space traders. Their father refuses to let them pursue this scheme. Instead, the whole family sets out for Mars. The twins try another business and run up against Martian bureaucracy. Jailed for fraud, they are successfully defended by their Grandmother Hazel, one of the founders of Luna Colony. The family acquires a Martian life form called a “flat cat,” which multiplies so rapidly that its progeny almost take over the ship and eat up all their supplies. Still thinking like businessmen, Castor and Pollux manage to make a profit off what could have been a disaster. Driven by the desire for more freedom and “elbow room,” the family continues their adventures in the Asteroid belt before heading off to see Saturn’s rings.



Chapter I—The Unheavenly Twins

1. The twins want to buy a space ship

(a) for sightseeing

(b) to run away from home

(c) for interplanetary trade

(d) to get to school on Earth

2. When the reader first meets four-year-old Lowell, he is

(a) taking a nap

(b) beating his grandmother at chess

(c) at nursery school

(d) watching space-vision

3. Roger Stone makes his living as

(a) a writer

(b) a doctor

(c) an engineer

(d) a shuttle pilot

4. When the twins first tell him of their plan to buy a spaceship, their father

(a) is proud and enthusiastic

(b) says he’ll lend them the money

(c) vetoes the plan

Answers: 1-c, 2-b, 3-a, 4-c

Chapter II—The Second-Hand Market

1. What new character does Grandmother Hazel invent when she takes over writing the Scourge of the Spaceways serial?

(a) a female captain

(b) an alien science officer

(c) Doc Ellen, a no-nonsense ship’s doctor modeled after her daughter-in-law

(d) a new villain, the Galactic Overlord

2. Who or what is the Marquis of Queensbury?

(a) British nobleman who invented the modern rules of boxing

(b) the head of RCA in New York

(c) the name of the hero’s ship in Scourge

(c) the villain in Scourge

3. What does Roger offer to do with the twins?

(a) help them with their math homework

(b) go shopping for spaceships

(c) play chess

(d)help them with their college applications to Harvard

Answers: 1-d, 2-a, 3-b

Chapter III—The Second-Hand Market

1. When explaining why she carries a gun, Hazel alludes to the White Knight’s reason for keeping a mouse trap on his horse. Alice says that it’s unlikely that there will be mice on the horse. The White Knight

(a) agrees, but says “if they do come, I don't choose to have them running all about.”

(b) agrees and throws away the mouse trap

(c) disagrees and points to a mouse on the horse’s mane

2. When they go to the shipyards, Roger Stone says he is in the market for

(a) a jumpbug

(b) a Detroiter

(c) a conservative family ship

(d) a commercial freighter

3. At one point, Hazel says “this city life is getting us covered with moss.” How does her statement relate to the book’s title and the family’s name?

Answers: 1-a; 2-c; 3—The old saying “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

Chapter IV—Aspects of Domestic Engineering

1. Who does most of the work to get the ship ready?

(a) Castor and Pollux

(b) Hazel

(c) Roger

(d) mechanics from Luna City

2. The new ship needs a name. The family finally decides on

(a) The Clunker

(b) Viking

(c) H.M.S. Pinafore

(d) The Rolling Stone

3. Roger decides that the first stop in their family trip will be

(a) Venus

(b) Saturn

(c) Mars

(d) Earth

Answers: 1-a, 2-d, 3-c

Chapter V—Bicycles and Blast Off

Prepare to read:

  1. What is Castor and Pollux’s first idea for a business on Mars? Why does their father forbid it?
  2. What is their default idea for a business?

Answers: 1-The twins plan to make grain alcohol (moonshine) to sell to the miners. Roger vetoes this because it is illegal. 2—rehabbing used bicycles (a common form of transportation on Mars) and selling them to the miners.

Chapter VI—Ballistics and Buster

  1. A sudden crisis almost makes the family turn back. What happened?

  2. Why are collisions between spaceships almost unheard of?

Answers: 1—Buster gets very sick during free fall, and it turned out that he was allergic to the sedative his mother had given him to help him through the trauma of free fall. 2—“Space is very large and ships are very tiny.”

Chapter VII—In the Gravity Well

1. When they leave the Moon on route for Mars, the Stones make their ship go faster with less fuel by

(a) heading straight for Mars

(b) dropping first toward Earth

(c) taking an elliptical trajectory toward the Sun

2. They see an unexpected radar-beacon blip on the screen and come close to colliding with it. It turns out to be

(a) a spaceship traveling to the Moon

(b) a bomb rocket from Mars

(c) an experimental rocket satellite of Harvard Radiation Laboratory

Answers: 1-b, 2-c

Chapter VIII—The Mighty Room

Prepare to read:

  1. Roger finds out that the twins cheated at school. How did they do it and what effect does it have?

  2. When they encounter another ship called the War God, what problem does it bring with it and what is the consequence for the Stone family?

Answers: 1- Castor took both courses in analytical geometry and Pollux took both courses in history. The effect, as Roger says, is that “such offenses carry their own punishments. When you need it, you don’t know it worth a hoot.” 2—There is an epidemic spreading on the ship, and Dr. Edith goes to the War God to see what help she can give them.

Chapter IX—Assets Recoverable

1. The disease that has infected the crew of the War God was probably

(a) small pox

(b) space fever

(c) a type of encephalitis

(d) a mutant strain of measles

2. What happened to the bicycles the twins had to jettison?

(a) The captain of the War God gives them enough extra fuel to go back and recover them.

(b) They had to abandon the cargo and get Dr. Stone, who is still very ill, to Mars for treatment.

(c) Unscrupulous space traders steal the bikes.

Answers: 1-d, 2-a

Chapter X—Phobos Port

  1. What are the two moons of Mars?
  2. Why is the force of gravity less on Phobos than on Earth?
  3. What decision does Roger make at the end of the chapter?

Answers: 1—Phobos and Deimos; 2—less mass; 3—to go into quarantine with his wife on the War God.

Chapter XI—Welcome to Mars!

Chapter XII—Free Enterprise

1. What goes wrong with Castor and Pollux’s plan to sell used bikes to miners?

2. What is the Hallelujah Node?

3. What is a flat cat?

4. What new scheme do they come up with to make a profit on the bikes?

Answers: 1—many of the miners are leaving Mars and going out to the Asteroids where there has been a “strike”; 2—the “strike” that is attracting miners, a rich source of metals out in the Asteroids; 3—a native Martian animal, a pie-shaped, boneless creature with sleek fur and a talent for purring and snuggling; 4—they sell a local restaurant owner on the idea of buying the bikes and setting up a tourist operation.

Chapter XIII—Caveat Vendor

1. The twins are thrown in jail for

(a) buying the flat cat—it’s an endangered species

(b) disorderly conduct

(c) fraud and conspiracy to evade custom duties

2. Who acts as the boys’ defense counsel?

(a) Hazel

(b) Roger

(c) Lowell

(d) Edith

3. Approximately how much profit do the twins end up making on their bike enterprise?

(a) 50,000 credits

(b) $1,000 dollars

(c) $50 dollars

(d) $.05 dollars

Answers: 1-c; 2-a; 3-d

Chapter XIV—Flat Cats Factorial

1. What does Buster tell his family about the nature of the ‘real Martians’ he meets?

2. What is the first idea Castor and Pollux have about how to pay for the family trip to the Asteroids?

3. Why does Roger refuse to be part of this plan?

4. What business do they decide to get into instead?

5. How do they solve the immediate problem of the proliferating flat cats?

Answers: 1—nothing; 2—to transport miners in cold sleep; 3—because most of the people who go into cold sleep don’t live through it; 4—they decide to become shopkeepers (groceries, drugs, vitamins, etc.); 5—putting them in “cold storage” (since Martian creatures hibernate in the cold, it will stop them breeding until they can come up with a more permanent solution).

Chapter XV—“Inter Jovem et Martem Planetam Interposui”

1. What is Bode’s Law?

2. Edith is pressed into duty as a doctor once again. What problem is she asked to help with this time?

3. What is the name of the capital city of the Asteroids?

Answers: 1—a rule for planetary distances; 2—a miner named Shorty Devine comes to their ship asking for help for his partner who has broken his leg; 3—Rock City.

Chapter XVI—Rock City

1.The Asteroid Belt is shaped like

(a) a doughnut

(b) a hemisphere

(c) a helix

(d) an elipse

2. Why does Heinlein call the three thousand inhabitants of the asteroid belt who live outside the larger planetoids the Belt’s “floating population”?

(a) because they split their time between the Belt and Earth

(b) because they are transients

(c) because they are migrants from Luna

(d) because they live and work in free fall

3. What do the twins trade the owner of Charlie’s Hole for scooter parts?

(a) one of their sister’s paintings

(b) books

(c) a flat cat and some chocolate

(d) they agree to sweep out the shop

Answers: 1—a; 2—d; 3—c

Chapter XVII—“Flat Cats Financial”

1.How does Dr. Stone get around the Belt to see patients?

(a) the miners set up a taxi service for her

(b) jet packs

(c) her own scooter

(d) trick question – they have to come to her

2. How do the twins peddle their oversupply of flat cats?

(a) set up a “pet shop” in Charlie’s Hole

(b) use their scooter to take flat cats to miners on a trial basis

(c) start advertising on a “suit radio” program that they create

(d) set up a stand outside City Hall

Answers: 1—a; 2—c

Chapter XVIII—The Worm in the Mud

1. Why do Hazel and Buster and up by themselves in the twins’ scooter?

2. What caused the scooter problem that almost results in a tragedy for the family?

Answers: 1—they have gone with Dr. Stone to visit a parient. When the doctor decides to stay with the patient, they take the scooter and head for home; 2—the twins left the scooter with faulty gyros and didn’t log it in.


Chapter XIX—The Endless Trail

  1. How does Hazel survive her brush with death in the twins’ scooter?

  2. Where is the Stone family heading at the end of the book?

Answers: 1—she uses the ancient fakir’s trick of breathing as shallowly as possible and going quickly into a coma to conserve oxygen; 2—Titan

Suggestions for more extended papers/projects, which allow students to reflect on major themes in the book as a whole:

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