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Remembering Laika the Soviet Space Dog, a Reading List for Children and Fans

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Laika on a Soviet matchbox label courtesy Fuel

Sixty years ago on November 3rd a mongrel mix with a bit of Siberian husky shot into space, becoming the world's first cosmonaut. Laika travelled to an altitude of almost 2,000 miles and orbited the earth aboard the Soviet spacecraft, Sputnik 2. She also died only several hours into orbit, but she remains alive in our imagination in books and film. In the lovely 1985 Swedish coming-of-age film, My Life as a Dog, the character of Ingemar consoles himself when his life is difficult by telling himself repeatedly that things could be worse, he could have been Laika, the dog who was sent into space. British comics artist Nick Abadzis carefully researched Laika's story, even traveling to Russia and visiting Sputnik 2 archives, producing a beautiful, award-winning graphic novel in 2014 about the intrepid dog whose life ended so tragically, and was a pawn in the space race between the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War. That same year UK publisher Fuel launched the book Soviet Space Dogs featuring all the paraphernalia designed and produced around the Soviet Union's canine cosmonauts, including matchboxes, stamps, cigarette packets and posters. 

Following is a list of five books for young readers and Laika fans alike to remember the stray dog who was not only the world's first cosmonaut, but also a symbol of patriotic sacrifice. On a happier note, three years after Laika was sent into space, two strays also in the Soviet space program, Belka and Strelka, orbited the Earth and came back alive. One of Strelka's puppies, Pushinka, went on to live in the White House, after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave her to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. 


Laika the Astronaut

This book is a beautifully illustrated retelling of Laika's life with an imagined ending for little ones. It recounts the story of the homeless stray living on the streets of Moscow when she is picked by the Space Programme to be the first ever animal launched into orbit. But her rocket disappears and everyone thinks Laika is lost forever. Owen Davey imagines that Laika was rescued by a loving new owner and has found her true home on a planet far, far away. Ages 5+.

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Laika

Sensitive children be forewarned: this is a very realistic account of Laika's story as it unfolds before she goes aboard the Russian spacecraft Sputnik 2 and her subsequent death. Unlike Owen Davey's book, it can be used with children to raise questions about history, the space race, and the price of technical progress versus sacrifice.Was Laika's sacrifice worth it to help humans learn about space travel? Ages 6+.

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Laika

If one had to choose a single book about Laika, this should be it. Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fiction and fact in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet space program, and Yelena, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and life. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal moment in modern history, casting light on the hidden moments of humanity behind history. Ages 10+.

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The Laika Mission

The Laika Mission is a fictional story based on real-life events that occurred during the birth of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets were first with the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite, and then immediately followed it with Sputnik 2. However, the second satellite carried a special cargo in the form of a dog named Laika.  This story brings Dimitri, the dog handler and Laika together with a venerable rocket scientist and two military doctors among the backdrop of a communist country. Ages 12+.

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Soviet Space Dogs

The publisher dedicated this book to the Soviet Space Dogs, who played a crucial part in the Soviet Space programme. These homeless dogs, plucked from the streets of Moscow, were selected because they fit the program's criteria: no more than 7kg, no more than 35cm in length, robust, photogenic and with a calm temperament. These characteristics enabled the dogs to withstand the extensive training that was needed to prepare them for suborbital, then for orbital space fights. On 3 November 1957, the dog Laika was the first Earth-born creature to enter space, making her instantly famous around the world. She did not return.Two further strays, Belka and Strelka, were the first beings to make it back from space, and were swiftly immortalized in childrens books and cartoons. Images of the Space Dogs proliferated, reproduced on everyday goods across the Soviet Union: cigarette packets, tins of sweets, badges, stamps and postcards all bore their likeness. The book uses these items to illustrate the story (in fact and fiction) of how they became fairy-tale idols. All ages.

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Journalist, globe trotter and food lover