Breaking Stalin's Nose

by Eugene Yelchin

Book, 2011



Call number

J 760 YEL



New York : Henry Holt, 2011.


In the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, ten-year-old Sasha idolizes his father, a devoted Communist, but when police take his father away and leave Sasha homeless, he is forced to examine his own perceptions, values, and beliefs.

User reviews

LibraryThing member foggidawn
Sasha Zaichik is the son of a Communist hero, and he wants to be just like his father. The night before Sasha is to join the Young Pioneers (the USSR's youth movement; kind of like a cross between the Boy Scouts and the Hitler Youth), Sasha writes an adoring letter to Stalin, professing his
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allegiance to the Communist cause. Just hours later, Sasha's father is arrested and taken away. Sasha is bewildered, but sure it is a mistake that will soon be rectified -- after all, Stalin himself once commended Sasha's father's service. As Sasha attends school the next day, his teacher and classmates continue to treat him like the son of a hero, as they have always done . . . until word of his father's arrest gets out. Suddenly, Sasha is an outcast. From his new position in the back of the classroom, he suddenly starts to see all sorts of things that he had been missing before. Will Sasha still be able to join the Young Pioneers? Will he even want to do so?

This is a great, thought-provoking read. I mean to go back and reread it some time in the next few days, in fact. It's deceptively brief -- I finished it in a few hours -- but it's the sort of book that sticks with you for days after you read it. I'm still not sure what a child Sasha's age (one who doesn't have any memory of the Iron Curtain or the Cold War, and who doesn't have a clear understanding, perhaps, of who Stalin is and what he did during his regime) would make of this book, but I'm pretty sure that, like Sasha, they would soon start to see the evils inherent in the system.
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LibraryThing member karenamorg
This quick read is deceptively simple, yet engages the reader with a story told from the point of view of ten-year old Sasha Zaichik about life in Stalin’s USSR. Sasha is very proud of his father, who holds a position of power as a mid-level State Security agent whose job it is to expose spies
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among ordinary citizens. The first sentence “My dad is a hero and a Communist, and more than anything, I want to be like him” captures the authentic voice of a proud young son, who is about to be named a Young Pioneer in his Moscow elementary school. There are complications when his father is unceremoniously rounded up by his co-worker comrades and taken off to the local prison. Sasha is forced to leave their apartment they share with dozens of others and is essentially without a home as he avoids being taken off to an orphanage.

The author, who has illustrated many children’s books, supplements his first novel with fine, detailed pencil drawings that evoke the intimidation and bleakness of this period in Russian history. The people are reminiscent of characters found in Russian Expressionistic art, and effectively compliment the unnerving descriptions of a time and a place where the truth was an inconvenience that rarely superseded the expediency of making an arrest. Target audience is 5th grade through middle school. Unfortunately, most students have little or no knowledge of Josef Stalin and the millions of people he ordered murdered, so the challenge is for English or history teachers to give students background information so that students can understand how realistically this book captures the Stalinist period. The Author’s Note at the end provides information about Yelchin’s experiences in the Soviet Union, where he lived until the age of 27 when he came to the U.S.

Yelchin, E. (2011). Breaking Stalin's nose. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
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LibraryThing member lindamamak
How an innocent book learns about believing in something doesn't always make it right.
LibraryThing member val313
This is a very powerful book about the Communist reign of terror that is seldom mentioned from a child's perspective. This was a Newbery honor book for 2012 and rightly deserves its recognition. While this is presented as a children's book I would be hesitant to let anyone under 12 years of age
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read this book. It deals with a very heavy subject matter that younger readers may not fully understand or might be upset by. It would make a great group discussion book so that children can ask questions about some of the more disturbing topics presented. This book also does not have a typical ending. It ends leaving more questions than answers.

Sasha is a 10 year old boy who's entire world revolves around being the best Community he can be. His father is a high ranking official and will be presenting the scarfs for the Young Pioneers which Sasha will soon be joining. However, in a cruel twist of fate his father is arrested and Sasha's world falls apart. Will he maintain his strong Communist beliefs or will he see the regime for what it truly is?

Sasha's naivety is written very well and is believable considering what he has been told from a very young age. I highly recommend this book to readers 12 and up so they can get a sense of what happened during this time period. However, I would also recommend that younger students or students that are more sensitive read this with an adult or in a group.
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LibraryThing member alicia519
Recommend this book to reluctant readers looking for historical fiction for school. The adults are all horrible and scary (until the very end of the book when we finally meet an adult we can like). Even though it's historical fiction, it's unbelievable enough to appeal to kids who enjoyed The Giver
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by Lois Lowry. There are some interesting illustrations that help set the mood.
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LibraryThing member candaceZ
Summary I chose Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin. This story is about a boy named Sasha Zaichik who is 10 years old and he lives in Moscow. His father works for the Soviet secret police and is a communist. Sasha believes everything he has been told about communism; he treats state property
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as sacred, he shuns personal property, he loves Comrade Stalin, and he cannot wait to become a Young Pioneer. He and his father live in a room in a komunalka, a communal apartment, with 46 other people, who keep their distance from Sasha’s father at a time when people are informing on one another and living in fear of being arrested.

Personal This book was a great chapter book and made me emotional at times. It is a short but powerful book that introduces middle-grade readers to the communist Soviet Union through the eyes of a young boy who has been taught that communism is the right way and that the capitalistic society of the United States is wrong. Eating a carrot is a luxury to Sasha, but he thinks he is lucky, believing that American children probably have never had something as wonderful as a carrot. It is heartbreaking to watch his world come crumbling down because he has no idea of the real world

Extention Idea This book would be great for middle-grade readers.
The teachers could use it in the classroom during discussion over the Soviet Union.
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LibraryThing member EuronerdLibrarian
What I liked about this was the presentation of Soviet life through the eyes of an innocent, slightly brainwashed boy. I think Yelchin effectively demonstrates aspects of what it was like to live in Communist Russia--how they were taught to suspect everyone, the poor living conditions, the constant
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disappearance of supposed "enemies," the betrayals, etc.
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LibraryThing member AMQS
This short novel packs an emotional punch, and I read it holding my breath and sick in my heart. 10 year-old Sasha loves Stalin with his whole heart, even writing him an impassioned letter of thanks the evening before he is to join the Young Pioneers, with his father, a respected and feared member
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of the secret police, set to be the guest of honor at the ceremony. Later that evening, however, his father is arrested (with the informing neighbor gleefully moving in only minutes later), and Sasha's world is turned upside down. Mr. Yelchin lived in the former Soviet Union, and his father, to whom the book is dedicated, survived The Great Terror. He skillfully conveys the oppressive fear and suspicion of the time . I felt the book grew a bit weaker toward the end, giving in to melodrama and straining credibility, but the author's note at the end of the book gives the extreme conditions in the book some historical context and authority. Mr. Yelchin's powerful illustrations perfectly complement the heart-racing story.
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LibraryThing member tahayes
Ten-year old Sasha Zaichik, an aspiring Communist who hopes to emulate his father, a State Security officer, writes a letter to Stalin, saying "I want to thank you personally for my happy childhood. I am fortunate to live in the Soviet Union, the most democratic and progressive country in the
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world." Events that unfold in the next 48 hours cause Sasha to question his beliefs, his values and his future. Through words and striking pencil-and-ink illustrations, Eugene Yelchin has created a convincing portrait of life in early Communist USSR. Without being didactic, Yelchin has created a cautionary tale depicting the dangers of accepting something without thinking, and of a state where people are no longer allowed to question.
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LibraryThing member FolkeB
I picked up this book because I thought it looked very interesting, not till after I picked it up did I see that it was a children?s book. I looked through a few pages and thought it to myself that this could be a good book so I checked it out. The author introduces the story very well and gives
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great descriptions of each seen throughout which is also detailed very well in the pictures that are drawn on some pages. The book travels through a few days in the life of a young man in Communist Russia during the Stalin Regime. The book is almost overbearing in how brainwashed these people are about communism and freedom, especially the younger generations. The young man always is talking about Stalin and how he must show him great appreciation and such, which is what it must have been like during this time for the people of Russia. I love the pictures that are included and the storyline that this book follows, but after reading this, I don't really know if this is appropriate for children. The book mentions America a few times and says how we are wrong in our freedom and communism is constantly mentioned throughout the book, quite a tough idea for a younger child to grasp. If I were to make any changes, I make this a more detailed story and have more twists and turns and introduce it to a larger older audience. The book is a great book, but for the audience chosen, I don't see the fit.

Chad P.
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LibraryThing member librarian1204
Very well done historical fiction. Would be an excellent read aloud in the upper grades even though reading level and format ( great illustrations) make it seem younger.
This book would generate so much class discussion and I think will stay in the reader's mind for a very long time. The fact that
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it is based on author experience makes it even more relevant.
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
A fantastic book for grade to middle school on the complexities of family, government, school, and trust during one of the most terrifying times in Russian history. Newbery honor book that is very deserving of this award. A short book with illustrations - perfect for reluctant readers.
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
Great story about a young boy's disillusionment with Stalin's violently oppressive regime in the Soviet Union. The age group this book is written for will need historical context to fully appreciate the story but it is well-suited for reading aloud and group discussion. In an afterward, the author
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discusses his own experience growing up in the Soviet Union.
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LibraryThing member KimJD
Grades 5-8: Sasha's idealistic view of Stalin's control over Russia changes drastically in the 24-hour period after his father is arrested as an enemy of the people. Velchin does not pull any punches in his stark examination of Communism through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy who has dreamed
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throughout his childhood of becoming one of Stalin's Young Pioneers. Dramatic graphite illustrations, many full two-page spreads, underscore the sober tone of this eye-opening book. Yelchin's concluding note goes into more detail on his own childhood in the post-Stalin Russia of the 1960s.
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LibraryThing member cay250
Sasha is 10 years old and is devoted to Joseph Stalin who ruled the Soviet Union through fear and brutality between 1923 and 1953, Stalin’s State Security was responsible for exiling, executing or imprisoning 20 million people. At the beginning of the book Sasha writes an adoring letters to
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Comrade Stalin expressing his eagerness at becoming a Young Pioneer. The abrupt jailing of his father has been causes Sasha reevaluate his beloved county and leader. Will stylized illustration, this first personal short story gives kids a deep understanding of life in a totalitarian state and how it corrupts the integrity and morality of its people.
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LibraryThing member Shelbya14
Breaking Stalin's Nose is an historical fiction novel that takes place in Soviet Russia. Sasha Zaichik dreams of becoming a Young Pioneer and leading the crusade to spread communism to the world. His faith in communism begins cracking when his father, who he idolizes, is arrested as an enemy of the
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state. He is terrified that his classmates will find out and he will become a bad egg. How will Zaichik reconcile his new reality with his love of Stalin and communism?
This was a phenomenal book. It was a very fast read with some fantastic illustrations. They had a lot of personality. It provides a perspective on communism that is definitely underrepresented in American schooling. It also devillainizes Russian civilians. It's a great historical read and would compliment a social studies course well. It's appropriate for readers 6th grade and up.
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LibraryThing member smheatherly2
This was a very interesting novel about the Stanlinistic era in Russia. As seen over two days, from a young boy's eyes who learns that Communism may not be as great as he was taught.
LibraryThing member agrudzien
Imagine sharing a house with eight other families. Imagine sharing one bathroom. Imagine thinking a carrot was a treat. Imagine thinking that this was as good as it could be.This is life for ten-year-old Sasha, who is growing up in Communist Russia. It is all he has ever known, and all he has ever
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wanted. As the day comes for him to join the Young Pioneers and start his communist duty, he begins to realize that Communism might not be as wonderful as he has been told it is.

Holy brainwashed Batman! This book was a good reminder as an adult of what we have, it would certainly open the eyes of young readers to other ways of life.
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LibraryThing member paula-childrenslib
In the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, ten-year-old Sasha idolizes his father, a devoted Communist, but when police take his father away and leave Sasha homeless, he is forced to examine his own perceptions, values, and beliefs.
LibraryThing member nased
I was at the Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio this weekend and hear Mr. Yelchin speak about life in the Soviet Union. I will remember his personal accounts while reading this book and being thankful for the freedoms we enjoy.
LibraryThing member ChristianR
This small, quick-to-read book packs a powerful punch. Ten-year-old Sasha lives in the USSR during Stalin's reign, and he is excited to become a Young Pioneer. He is tremendously proud that his father is a member of the State Security who keeps the Soviet Union safe from spies and enemies of the
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state. But then things quickly go very wrong. His father is dragged away himself by State Security in the middle of the night with no explanation. Things worsen the next day at school, and Sasha begins to lose hope that the authorities will realize they've taken his father mistakenly and free him. It is moving to see Sasha's devoted faith in Stalin and his teachings slowly begin to waver, then crumble.
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LibraryThing member Adrian.Gaytan
The story and the events take place over two days, which is very neat. Because stories don't have to take over the course of years or a day. Sasha is a ten year old boy living with his father in former USSR. His father works for the communist government and the "idealized" leader Joseph Stalin.
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Sasha wants nothing more than to become the best young pioneer (younger ROTC). His father is dragged away by military and Sasha fends for himself overnight and hopes the political system that he trusts will return his father. He is shun by family and neighbors because the implications revolving around his father. At school he does not reveal the event and he faces more problems in his class with peers and teacher.

The story is told from the perspective of Sasha and its during winter and he never met mother. Have a different perspective to American and the Democratic system. The characters are constantly worried about being seen as traitors to the country. There are some great illustrations, enough to help with visual but not enough for picture book. I could see this book done in a literary circle.
These and other topics for discussion.........freedom, communism, beliefs, prison, jail, Kremlin, government and single parents
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LibraryThing member harleybrenton
This book goes through the mind of a young boy in the USSR. He is a strong believer in the goodness of communism. When he breaks Stalin’s nose off of a statue, and his dad is arrested, he must decide what he morally thinks is right. There are few illustrations, but emphasize the big turning
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points of the book. I would use this book to explore kid’s views on morals, or while studying the USSR.
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LibraryThing member margaritamunoz14
Breaking Stalin's nose is such an amazing book that will keep you wanting more every single page. The story will tug at your heart but will show you what Russia went through during World War II. The story is shown through a young boys life who wants to become part of the pioneers. It starts off
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with the devotion he has towards Stalin and then towards the end when his father is taken away he begins to question his love for Stalin. During this time he goes through hell nothing seems to be going right and he doesn't know what to do anymore he doesn't want to be a part of the young pioneers anymore.
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LibraryThing member jmille113
This book is about a Russian boy who realizes, quite suddenly, that Stalin’s utopic government is not what he has been raised to believe. I like this book for three reasons. First, I like how Velchin makes the plot suspenseful, leaving the reader guessing as to what is going to happen from the
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moment Sasha’s father is taken away by the secret police. At one point Sasha learns that Vovka, an outcast, knows that he broke the nose off of a statue of Stalin in the school hallway, an offense that could keep Sasha out of the Young Pioneers, the Russian equivalent of Hitler’s Youth. Many moments in the text afterward revisit this predicament, toying with, but not resolving it. I also like how the characters are believable. When Sasha’s father is first taken away, the man who turned him in, Stukachov, wastes no time moving his family into Sasha and his father’s coveted room. This speaks to how low some people can sink in order to improve their position in life. Finally, I like how this book pushes readers to think about the realities of government oppression. At the beginning of the story, Sasha is a steadfast, optimistic patriot of Stalin’s government. But, as he begins to recognize the realities of what is happening to people, including his father, at the hands of the government, he soon denounces his willingness to become a Young Pioneer.
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