Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose

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by Eugene Yelchin
     
 

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Breaking Stalin's Nose is one of Horn Book's Best Fiction Books of 2011

Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:
The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.
A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.
A

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Overview

Breaking Stalin's Nose is one of Horn Book's Best Fiction Books of 2011

Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:
The Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.
A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.
A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.
But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate's glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway. And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.

Eugene Yelchin's moving story of a ten-year-old boy's world shattering is masterful in its simplicity, powerful in its message, and heartbreaking in its plausibility.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Picture book author/illustrator Yelchin (Won Ton) makes an impressive middle-grade debut with this compact novel about a devoted young Communist in Stalin-era Russia, illustrated with dramatically lit spot art. Ten-year-old Sasha lives with his father, a State Security secret policeman whom he worships (almost as much as he worships Stalin), and 46 others in a communal apartment. The story opens on the eve of the fulfillment of Sasha's dream—to become a Young Soviet Pioneer—and traces the downward spiral of the following 24 hours, as he resists his growing understanding that his beloved Communist state is far from ideal. Through Sasha's fresh and optimistic voice, Yelchin powerfully renders an atmosphere of fear that forces false confessions, even among schoolchildren, and encourages neighbors and family members to betray one another without evidence. Readers will quickly pick up on the dichotomy between Sasha's ardent beliefs and the reality of life under Stalinism, and be glad for his ultimate disillusion, even as they worry for his future. An author's note concisely presents the chilling historical background and personal connection that underlie the story. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Jody Little
10-year old-Sasha is proud of his Communist father. He believes that Comrade Stalin is the greatest leader and teacher of all time. Sasha lives in a communal apartment with his father and 48 other people. The night before the Pioneers rally at which Sasha will officially become a young Communist, his father is taken away. Sasha is confused. Why would Stalin allow his father to be taken? Sasha decides to get answers for himself and sets out on a quest which takes him to his aunt's home, his school and ultimately to Lubyanka, a prison. As the search for his father continues, Sasha begins to doubt everything he once believed: the comforts of his home, the nature of his father's work, and Stalin's leadership. Set during the heart of Stalin's reign in the Soviet Union, the author brings the scenes, the language and the beliefs of Communism to readers as only one who has lived it could do. The main character is thoughtful, spunky and courageous, and the book's illustrations will captivate readers. This is a well-written and accessible work of historical fiction for young readers. Reviewer: Jody Little
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Velchin skillfully combines narrative with dramatic black-and-white illustrations to tell the story of life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Sasha Zaichik, the 10-year-old son of a member of the secret police, is bursting with pride because he is ready to become a Young Pioneer. He is equally excited that his father will be officiating at the ceremony. But then he watches as his father is taken away to prison, turned in by a neighbor vying for bigger living quarters. Sasha joins his peers in taunting Borka Finkelstein, their only Jewish classmate, even though readers sense that he doesn't really want to do it. The question of who is a good Communist underlies much of the plot. The book's intriguing title refers to Sasha's accidentally breaking the nose off a bust of Stalin. Borka, desperate to see his imprisoned parents, confesses to the action, with the hope that he will be taken to prison, too. Sasha does not admit his own guilt. Eventually disillusionment overtakes homeless Sasha as he waits in line to visit his father. Velchin's illustrations are filled with pathos and breathe life into the narrative. Though there are many two-dimensional characters, mostly among the adults, Sasha and Borka are more fully drawn. While the story was obviously created to shed light on the oppression, secrecy, and atrocities under Stalin's regime, Sasha's emotions ring true. This is an absorbing, quick, multilayered read in which predictable and surprising events intertwine. Velchin clearly dramatizes the dangers of blindly believing in anything. Along with Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray (Philomel, 2011), this selection gives young people a look at this dark history.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Kirkus Reviews

"There's no place for the likes of you in our class," Sasha Zaichik's teacher tells him, and that seems to be the motto of the whole Stalinist nation.

Yelchin's debut novel does a superb job of depicting the tyranny of the group, whether residents of a communal apartment, kids on the playground, students in the classroom or government officials. It's the readiness of the group to create outsiders—bad ones, "unreliables," "wreckers"—by instilling fear in everyone that chills. Not many books for such a young audience address the Stalinist era, when, between 1923 and 1953, leaving a legacy of fear for future generations. Joseph Stalin's State Security was responsible for exiling, executing or imprisoning 20 million people. Sasha is 10 years old and is devoted to Stalin, even writing adoring letters to Comrade Stalin expressing his eagerness at becoming a Young Pioneer. But his mother has died mysteriously, his father has been imprisoned and Sasha finds he has important moral choices to make. Yelchin's graphite illustrations are an effective complement to his prose, which unfurls in Sasha's steady, first-person voice, and together they tell an important tale.

A story just as relevant in our world, "where innocent people face persecution and death for making a choice about what they believe to be right," as that of Yelchin's childhood. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

From the Publisher

“Mr. Yelchin has compressed into two days of events an entire epoch, giving young readers a glimpse of the precariousness of life in a capricious yet ever-watchful totalitarian state.” —Wall Street Journal

“A miracle of brevity, this affecting novel zeroes in on two days and one boy to personalize Stalin's killing machine of the '30s. . . . Black-and-white drawings march across the pages to juxtapose hope and fear, truth and tyranny, small moments and historical forces, innocence and evil. This Newbery Honor book offers timeless lessons about dictatorship, disillusionment and personal choice.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“The cat-and-mouse chase that pits Sasha's whole world against him will rivet middle-grade readers, but this title will hold special appeal for older students whose grasp of content outstrips their reading proficiency.” —BCCB

“Picture book author/illustrator Yelchin makes an impressive middle-grade debut with this compact novel about a devoted young Communist in Stalin-era Russia, illustrated with dramatically lit spot art.” —Publishers Weekly

“* This brief novel gets at the heart of a society that asks its citizens, even its children, to report on relatives and friends. Appropriately menacing illustrations by first-time novelist Yelchin add a sinister tone.” —The Horn Book, starred review

“Yelchin's graphite illustrations are an effective complement to his prose, which unfurls in Sasha's steady, first-person voice, and together they tell an important tale.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Yelchin skillfully combines narrative with dramatic black-and-white illustrations to tell the story of life in the Soviet Union under Stalin.” —School Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805092165
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
09/27/2011
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
1,131,499
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile:
670L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Breaking Stalin's Nose

1

MY DAD IS A HERO and a Communist and, more than anything, I want to be like him. I can never be like Comrade Stalin, of course. He's our great Leader and Teacher.

The voice on the radio says, "Soviet people, follow our great Leader and Teacher—the beloved Stalin—forward and ever forward to Communism! Stalin is our banner! Stalin is our future! Stalin is our happiness!" Then a song comes on, "A Bright Future Is Open to Us." I know every word, and, singing along, I take out a pencil and paper and start writing.

Dear Comrade stalin,

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 world. I have read how hard the lives of children are in the capitalist countries and I feel pity for all those who do not live in the USSR. They will never see their dreams come true.

My greatest dream has always been to join the Young soviet Pioneers—the most important step in becoming a real Communist like my dad. By the time I was one year old, my dad had taught me the Pioneers greeting. He would say, "Young Pioneer! Ready to fight for the cause of the Communist Party and Comrade stalin?" In response, I would raise my hand in the Pioneers salute.

Of course, I couldn't reply "Always ready!" like the real Pioneers do; I couldn't talk yet. But I'm old enough now and my dream is becoming a reality. Tomorrow at my school's Pioneers rally, I will finally become a Pioneer.

It's not possible to be a true Pioneer without training one's character in the stalinist spirit .

I solemnly promise to make myself strong from physical exercise, to forge my Communist character, and always to be vigilant, because our capitalist enemies are never asleep. I will not rest until I am truly useful to my beloved soviet land and to you personally, dear Comrade stalin. Thank you for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

Forever yours, sasha Zaichik, Moscow Elementary chool #37

When I imagine Comrade Stalin reading my letter, I get so excited that I can't sit still. I rise up and march like a Pioneer around the room, then head to the kitchen to wait for my dad.

Copyright © 2011 by Eugene Yelchin

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Meet the Author

Eugene Yelchin has illustrated several books for children, including Who Ate All the Cookie Dough? and Won Ton. He lives in California with his wife and children.

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