Friday 26 July 2013

ReadItDaddy's Book of the Week - Week Ending 26th July 2013 - "Laika the Astronaut" by Owen Davey (Templar Publishing)

"So beautiful - should've sent a poet" - Eleanor Arroway in 'Contact'

We're a family of complete space nerds. My wife (the lucky thing) has travelled with her solar scientist dad to the Kennedy Space Centre, and since Charlotte was born she's always been aware of space science and exploration.

When I first heard about Laika the Astronaut by Owen Davey, I knew this would be a book we'd have to obtain. I'd touched on the subject with Charlotte before but when the book turned up this week, we weren't quite prepared for how beautiful it is, how Owen has imbued it with such an emotionally powerful and celebratory vibe that we're left agog.

Laika was a true space pioneer. Lifted from the streets as a stray, she was trained (or some might say 'pressganged') into becoming the first living being in space. The Russian space programme had already successfully launched Sputnik 1, and by 1957 thoughts turned to the first manned space flight. But rather than risk a pilot, the Russians turned to the canine world and thus Laika became legend.

Owen Davey's book describes her story from wandering the streets, to her training programme, and through to the nailbiting launch. Laika blasts off and as space nerds like us will already know, things went awry and the spacecraft developed a fault just hours into the mission.

Laika in Training! 

The book doesn't end there though but in true ReadItDaddy tradition we're not going to ruin the rest for you, suffice to say that Owen's end-of-book summary of Laika's story made me tearful, and Charlotte joyful.

If you want to see more sneaky peeks (we don't want to spoil it for you but it's truly truly gorgeous), hop over to Owen's website.

The hunt for the real Laika began

Laika in her Sputnik II Spacecraft. Heroic little dog, bless her. 
Like most books that become "Book of the Week", what happens when the covers are closed is often why we choose the books we do. Laika the Astronaut had us hauling out ever encyclopaedia in the house, firing up the iPad and trawling the Internet to find out more about Laika. To Charlotte it was important that she knew that the book was based on a real story, and that the real Laika was "out there" - No not orbiting the earth but in the archives, in books, in our stamp collection even - and of course on many many websites.

Laika in her space harness. "Just like in the book, Daddy" said Charlotte.
Looking at the movies and photos of Laika is where things got tricky. As I said, we won't spoil the book for you but obviously most adults will know what really happened here - in fact when you're a space geek but also love animals and despise the thought that they're used in scientific experiments, it's quite tough to broach the subject with a five year old. Owen's choice was to tell the story his way and it's immensely successful and rather touching.

Laika's spacecraft Sputnik II on the rocket, ready for launch
We do urge parents to tackle the book the way we did. Read it, enjoy it (and oh boy, you will most certainly enjoy it) and take a voyage of discovery afterwards. Not just into Laika's story and history but also into the various space programmes that Laika paved the way for. Never stop being curious and with beautiful and thought-provoking books like this to spur your child's curiosity, being a space geek parent can be one of the best things in the world.

Looking at the publication date for the book I feel like I should apologise. You are going to have to wait until November for it? NOVEMBER ARRGH! But I urge you, beg you even, put a pre-order in for this because you truly will not want to miss out.

Charlotte's best bit: Happy Laika when she smiles, and the end of the book which is such a beautiful, beautiful moment (and made us want to burst into tears)

Daddy's favourite bit: I'm just blown away by how good this book is. It's not just amazing to look at, it's like lighting the fuse of that amazingly powerful force that is a child's imagination and curiosity combined. A sweet story woven around the facts, and a bittersweet ending that is just so wonderful. Aww don't set me off again please...(sniff).

We found a rather neat little movie (in spanish but worth a watch) telling Laika's story too.

(Laika the Astronaut was kindly sent to us for review by Templar Publishing)