Moscow. 1957. A brave but lonely, stray dog is chosen to become the first animal to orbit the Earth. A few hours after her spaceship achieves its goal, something goes wrong. The screens at mission control fall black and little Laika is presumed lost to the world. Luckily, Owen Davey offers an alternative (and wholly more satisfactory) ending to the one history provides. Davey’s Laika is rescued and adopted by a loving alien family (natch).
Owen Davey’s interpretation of Laika’s story is a wonderful way to introduce little ones to big concepts, such as loneliness and loss, grief and hope. And the art. Oh, the art. Davey manages to doff his hat to constructivism and Russian folk art, referencing the strong imagery and colour contrasts of Soviet propaganda posters and imbuing the happiest scenes with delicate, wood-cut-like details (flowers, hearts and birds, albeit three-eyed, alien birds) while never losing his own unique style. Davey’s commitment to stylised, yet simple text and imagery means children are both taken with, and are easily able to understand, the book’s plot and message. Laika the Astronaut is an unusual, emotional, and delightful take on what would otherwise be a tragic (and static) tale about one of history’s animal heroes.