Laika the astronaut by Owen Davey

cover image

Templar, 2013. ISBN 9781848778788.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Space travel. Dogs. Laika is a stray dog scavenging a living on the streets of Moscow when she is picked up by a group of scientists who train her for a special mission in a spacecraft. She is the first animal to travel into space, paving the way for later space journeys. Her rocket disappears but in this story she has a happy ending.
This is a very poignant story of the first dog, Laika, and her lonely journey into space. Davey traces her life story in simple words that will allow children of all ages to learn about the bravery of the little dog. There is no mention of the ethics of using animals for experiments, although this book would be a useful lead in for discussion for older children about this topic. Instead Laika is pictured as a very lonely little animal who finally finds a loving home out in space.
The pictures are very captivating, with the use of deep olive greens, reds and black against tones of yellow. The shapes are stylised and especially heart wrenching for those who know what happens to Laika is the double page spread showing Blast-Off, with Laika looking out of the rocket's window. The picture is repeated with the rocket growing smaller and smaller. There are many layers to the illustrations, and older children and those studying the art of book illustration will have plenty to uncover.
This would be an ideal book to introduce the idea of space travel and exploration to children, as well as introducing Laika as a hero who will be long remembered as a space pioneer.
Pat Pledger