For Laika (Kobo eBook)
For Laika: the Dog Who Learned the Names of the Stars is by two of the three authors of From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, the acclaimed 2017 children’s picture book that was featured in the New York Times and in 2020 was read aloud by Julie Andrews on her online platform Julie’s Library.
For Laika is based on the moving story of the stray dog who was sent into space on the spacecraft Sputnik 2 as part of an experiment by the Soviet space program in 1957; the Soviets were trying to determine the effects of space travel on living organisms. Laika became one of the first animals in space, but tragically she died while in orbit. Laika’s fate – that of a dog sent into space alone, not knowing she would never return - has become the stuff of pop culture legend, and referred to in numerous films, books, and even a song by Arcade Fire.
In For Laika, Laika is portrayed as a street orphan who dreams about outer space, and who wonders what the names of the stars are, because she knows all dogs become stars when they die – including her parents. The book is a beautiful meditation on animal welfare, world peace, and the bonds between humans and animals. It also gently introduces young readers to the concept of death.
There have been earlier children’s books about Laika. Laika: Astronaut Dog (Templar, 2013) posited that Laika didn’t die but found a home on another planet. And Laika: The Space Dog (Picture Window Books; 2014) is a straight-ahead depiction of Laika’s story. For Laika differs in its evocative and dreamlike illustrations, and the concept of Laika’s dream coming true in order to learn the names of the stars and hence become closer to her parents. (There was also another book called simply Laika (First Second, 2007) that was a graphic novel.)
In author Kai Cheng Thom’s own words: “As an author, I’ve always had a deeply felt personal connection with the story of Laika, whose courage and tragic end have always deeply resonated with me. As a child, I was most captivated by picture books that incorporated both the magical whimsy of most children’s books with the haunting reality of the real human world - stories in picture book form about human tragedies in ways that were both beautiful and suitable for a child. I wanted to give voice to Laika, and to the powerful need that children have to see how peace can be achieved in the world – if not for humans, then for the creatures we share the planet with.”
Kai Cheng and illustrator Kai Yun will do online events together with bookstores, talking about their creative process and about Laika’s story.