Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth
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This issue’s cover illustration is from Lulu Loves Flowers by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw. Thanks to Alanna Books for their help with this cover and to Hachette Children’s Books for their support of the Authorgraph interview with Caroline Lawrence
This author is justly renowned for bringing a distinctive his wit and charm to everything he does. So it is all the more baffling that he has now come up with a story that is actually hard to get through. The main character young Prez, put into a foster home when his grandfather and one remaining carer develops dementia, is believable enough. So too is the affectionate, understanding farming family with whom he says over one summer. The problem is Sputnik himself: a stray dog who doubles as a reincarnation of Laika, the poor animal who was launched into space by the Soviets in 1957 and then clinically killed off towards the end of her journey. Sometimes Sputnik behaves like a dog. At other times, he displays superhuman powers. How much of him is real and how much the fantasy object of the otherwise silent Prez is never at all clear.
The two have many adventures, and there is an underlying theme about the possible extinction of our planet from outside forces that only Sputnik seems to know about. But as there is no apparent limit to what he can do and get away with, any tension of the will he, won’t he, variety soon dissipates. Accompanying black and white drawings by Steven Lenton are nice enough in themselves but don’t really help solve the essential confusion here between fantasy and reality. Let’s hope the next offering from this otherwise dream team comes out as less generally puzzling.