Every now and then, my son and I will come across a book that we may not have expected much from but it turns out to completely captivate him. In today’s case, my husband actually found the book while searching for sci-fi books for younger kids. Voyage of the Dogs by Greg Van Eekhout was an absolute winner of a story, a mix of interstellar space travel, mystery, suspense, friendship and dogs, of course!
From the very first page, my son was gripped by action and intrigue. He couldn’t wait to read more each night, when ordinarily, he’s dragging his feet when it’s time for bed. On the macro level, this is a story of a space journey meant to culminate in the establishment of a new Earth outpost on a planet called Stepping Stone. The crew consists of 4 human astronauts and 4 canine Barkonauts.
The main character is a scrappy terrier named Lopside. A former stray, we learn that he was rescued by a kind woman named Roro. Not only is Roro is a very attentive caregiver but she also has a really cool job! She is a crew member training for the Stepping Stone mission. Knowing that the mission will require smart dogs, she convinces her superiors to let Lopside join the Barkonauts crew.
There are three other dogs training for the journey, as well. Champion is the canine leader; a golden retriever, she is very serious and leads with absolute integrity and resolve. Bug the corgi is a brilliant engineer who, like his human counterparts, has a low tolerance for antics. And then there’s Daisy, a Great Dane puppy who can’t help but cause some of the annoying antics due to her gangly legs and oversized paws!
In order to reach Stepping Stone, the human and canine crew members must enter hibernation mode. The humans will be awakened by the ship’s systems after they have traversed much of the deep space gulf between the place where our solar system ends and Stepping Stone. At that time, the dogs will then be awakened by the humans. The ship’s name Laika, for those familiar with the famous yet doomed dog’s story of space travel, is a nod to the crew’s possible fate.
Ultimately, the dogs are brought out of hibernation not by their human crew members but by the ship itself. With dawning horror, they are stunned to find that the ship is damaged and the human crew is missing, along with a life pod. As they come to terms with their new reality, the dogs must also face the devastating betrayal of the humans, especially Roro, who have left them behind, alone.
Unfortunately for the Barkonauts, there are more pressing issues, like determining what type of damage the ship has sustained and whether it can be repaired. The crew determines that Lopside will conduct a spacewalk of sorts, using a small rover to assess the damage. They have learned that a dish necessary to communicate with Earth has been turned away, in the wrong direction.
Actually, I should take this chance to explain that the humans and dogs are able to communicate due to technology that decodes barks into words and vice versa. Will the crew be able to successfully send a message to mission control? And they are successful, is there anything that can be done to bring the dogs back safely? Are they doomed to float through space until the very end? And what happened to the human crew? Are they continuing the missing from a less-equipped life pod?
Voyage of the Dogs is an exciting chapter book filled with adventure, action, mystery and friendship. In terms of independent reading, it is geared more towards the 10-12 age range but as a bedtime read-aloud, my 9 year old was enthralled. He has called it his new favorite book more than once, which hasn’t been the case since we first read The BFG in 2017! He kept leaving the room to tell his dad about pivotal moments in the story. And considering Dad was the one who discovered the book, he really enjoyed seeing and hearing his enthusiasm for the characters and plot.