KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Books

Houston, we have a fabrication

by Carody Culver , April 1, 2014Leave a comment

Laika, Astronaut Dog

 

As someone who doesn’t have children, I’m no less resistant than any of my book-loving friends-with-kids to the charm of a beautiful picture book. So when I spotted Laika: Astronaut Dog by writer and illustrator Owen Davey, with its charming retro-style artwork, I immediately had one of those financially unwise ‘maybe I should buy this even though I’m approximately 25 years older than its intended audience and like it too much to give it away as a gift to an age-appropriate recipient’ moments.

This changed when I actually read the book, which – as you might have guessed – tells the ‘true’ story of Laika, a Soviet space dog with the dubious claim to fame of having been the first animal to orbit the earth. Laika’s trip on Sputnik 2 in 1957 didn’t exactly culminate in the same triumph (and, indeed, survival) experienced by her human counterpart Yuri Gagarin, who became the first man to visit space in 1961. Laika, not being human, was considered expendable, and is thought to have died from overheating shortly after Sputnik 2’s launch.

But – spoiler alert – Davey’s rendition of the real Laika’s adventure comes with a rather quaint and fantastical twist. While the remains of the real Laika and her vessel disintegrated in 1958 when they re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, Davey’s plucky little space dog is rescued by a loving adoptive family of aliens and given a new home in space; everyone lives happily ever after. Dubious metaphor or troubling fabrication?

There’s a long tradition of picture books that tell true stories, and some feature elements that aren’t especially palatable for younger readers. Notable Australian examples are The Rabbits, written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan, which tells a tale of colonisation from the perspective of the colonised; Took the Children Away, with words by musician Archie Roach and illustrations by Ruby Hunter, which is based on the ARIA Award-winning song of the same name and reveals the plight and injustice of Australia’s Stolen Generations; I Was Only Nineteen by another musician, John Schumann, and illustrated by Craig Smith, is a kids’ version of the author’s classic anthem about the Vietnam War.

Some children’s books find ways to gloss gently over their less-than-happy aspects without actually changing the truth: Marsden’s book, for example, makes Australia’s white colonisers rabbits (albeit not very cute ones, for obvious reasons). Roach’s lyrics are hard-hitting (‘Snatched from their mother’s breast / Said this was for the best’), as are Schumann’s (‘the ANZAC legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears’), but they nonetheless provide the opportunity to discuss and explain important past events to curious young readers.

While picture books can be a wonderful way to teach kids about actual historical events – even if those events aren’t full of rainbows and lollipops – I’m not so sure about this convergence of entertainment and education when it involves the degree of whitewashing evident in Laika. It’s a lovely book and a cute version of events, but it’s not real. That’s not to say it isn’t a delight to look at – simply that any parent choosing to buy it for their children might end up having to answer some tough questions. Of course, any kid whose curiosity is piqued by this dog-in-space yarn can easily find out what really happened – will that be worse than reading about it in storybook form to begin with?

The answer to this question depends on individual readers, but I think there’s also a matter of principle at stake here. Why not write a completely new tale if the real one is going to be hard for young readers to handle? A little sugar-coating usually serves a purpose, but, if you want to retell a true story that you think is too sad for its intended audience, perhaps it’s not the right story to tell – even if you have created the world’s cutest space dog and finally given her the send-off she deserves.

Carody Culver is a Brisbane-based freelance writer, editor and part-time bookseller. 

ACO logo




9781863957434

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their June picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lisa-gorton_the-life-of-houses

James Tierney

A Novel of Longer Exhalations: Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses

It’s sometimes said that each book teaches you how to read it. That each way of telling a story needs to not only beguile anew but needs to tutor the reader in the ways to best attend its pages. Read more »

9781743316337

Danielle Binks

Finding Books for Young Readers: The Reading Children’s Book Prize

James Patterson once said, ‘There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading and kids who are reading the wrong books.’ So how do we get the right books into the hands of budding bibliophiles? Well, the Readings Children’s Book Prize Shortlist is a great place to start. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

kim-kardashian-selfish-cover-main

Brodie Lancaster

We Are All Kardashians

For the past five years, I have loved and been obsessed with the Kardashians. Specifically, the E! reality series that made them famous. I often feel the need to intellectualise why I like these series and the people on them – you know, because I’m not a moron, and these are shows about morons, for morons. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »