Thursday, March 8, 2012

Graphic Is Great: Laika review

Welcome to the newest feature on my blog, "Graphic Is Great!"  After much deliberation, I decided that this simple title summed up my intentions best.  Many graphic novels are great, and they are often unappreciated or overlooked.  They are challenged for their content by parents, and yet deemed unchallenging by teachers because they have pictures.  This week I sought the opinion of the middle school literature teacher on graphic novel biographies like Maus and Persepolis, to see if she would allow her students to write book reports on them.  The answer was a firm "No."  It's the same as when a student wants to write a paper based on an abridged version of a classic - except graphic novels offer the complete story with the use of different media.

I wonder how these teachers would feel about audiobooks.

Anyway.  Here's my review of Laika by Nick Abadzis.
Checkouts: New to the library
Typical reader: Graphic novel fans and animal lovers
Source: Donation

Synopsis: This is a fictionalized account of the life of Laika, the first living being sent into space during the Cold War.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

This is one of the saddest stories I've read in a while.  Since this is based on history, I don't feel that spoilers are possible; you can verify it on Wikipedia or whatever source you prefer.  Laika was sent up by the Soviet Union's space program just a month after Sputnik went beeping across the night's sky.  Because of the time crunch in the schedule, those designing the space vessel did not make preparations for retrieval: the little dog was doomed to die in orbit.  When this plan was announced, I put down the book with tears in my eyes.

The story takes liberties with Laika's back story, and with the space program's dog handler, Yelena Dubrovsky.  Comrade Dubrovsky is a fictional character, as far as I can find, but she gives the dogs a loving voice.  She has the most conscience among the team about the dogs and their well-being, though one scientist did take Laika home to play with his children after she was chosen to be the dog sent up in Sputnik 2, and the book ends with a remorseful quote from scientist Oleg Gazenko about how the mission did not provide enough data to warrant the death of the dog.

This book is amazing, though.  It transmits the story of the star-crossed dog's fate (yes, pun intended).  A written narrative would not have offered the same portrayal of so many different points of view so well, without delving into fantasy.  We see Laika's actions, and Yelena pretends the dogs talk to her.  To cover this story in a different medium would have been difficult.

I'm honestly not sure what to make of the art.  While it does portray the story very well, I don't think I completely warmed to the style.  The dogs often look extremely emaciated, and clothing is rumpled and frumpy.  I'm also used to the trend of large eyes in Japanese works, which this certainly does not have.  At other times, the style worked fantastically.  Judging sequential art is very subjective.

Panel three of this sequence is particularly fine.
Laika could not have been written before the fall of the Soviet Union, because the details of the Sputnik 2 mission and how the dear little dog died were not released until afterward.  I do wonder how much of an impact this story will have on today's youth, though.  The Berlin Wall came down when I was in elementary school; my students are even further removed from the Cold War.  The significance of the Space Race may be lost on them.  On the other hand, children do enjoy learning about space exploration, and animals will probably always be popular.
The real Laika

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog. As a librarian you might be interested in the word play involved in cryptic crosswords. I am doing a series of posts on solving cryptic clues. This was the first one I did. Hope you enjoy.