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Breaking Stalin's Nose
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Breaking Stalin's Nose

4.0 22
by Eugene Yelchin

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A Newbery Honor Book.

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


A Newbery Honor Book.

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.

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

Editorial Reviews

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

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)

Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Breaking Stalin's Nose


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

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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Breaking Stalin's Nose 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Gardenseed More than 1 year ago
This is a slice of reality from life in Russia, written by someone who was born and lived there.  The story is utterly absorbing from the first page and ends on a note of hope.  The author has also illustrated his book, lending it additional authenticity. It is a small book and reads very quickly. Highly recommended for 5-6th grades and up. 
RN More than 1 year ago
A young Russian boy accidently breaks the nose off of a bust of Stalin. He is concerned for his life as he is surrounded by people he cannot trust because his family members and classmates keep disappearing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes this book was short but that didnt stop the author to not write a great book im in 5th grade and finshed this book in a day ! To me this book wasnt scary at all well except the suthors note that sorta freaked me out im glad i dont live in russia . The whole pionner thing made me think about boy scouts. I knew there was a message to the whole book i just didnt get it that clear but i will most likly read this book next year to maybe understand it more . I will highly recomend this book from ages 10-14 becuase it is a nice book and the story was very well writen sonetines. My only negitave thing to say is things happend so fast i was like whaaaasaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaht??? Any way this guy has to write a sequel are another book . This book will be a great book to read whenever IT WILL NEVER BE FORGOT EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading and loved it. The ending is good but doesnt tell enough. I hope there is a book after this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Get this book!
YoungMensanBookParade More than 1 year ago
Breaking Stalin’s Nose, a historical fiction novel by Eugene Yelchin, depicts the story of Sasha Zaichik, a ten-year-old boy who lives with his distinguished father in a crowded apartment in the Soviet Union. Raised in the strictly communist USSR, Zaichik nearly worships Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, and the child longs to join the esteemed Young Pioneers, a group for adolescents devoted to Stalin and communism. However, when his beloved father is arrested and Ziachik makes a mistake that is perceived as terrorism, Ziachik’s entire world is turned upside down. Disillusioned, he begins to realize that perhaps Stalin, communism, and the Soviet Union aren’t so perfect after all. Breaking Stalin’s Nose is an exceptional novel. Although the book takes place over only two days, the reader witnesses Ziachik’s entire life change, highlighting the fact that everything can change in the blink of an eye. Also, unlike most historical novels, Breaking Stalin’s Nose is written from the perspective of someone—Zaichik—who actually experienced this era, allowing us to understand the obsession, brain-washing, and fear characteristic of the USSR. Uniquely, Yelchin manages to convey the cruelty and injustice of communism while avoiding the gruesome details inappropriate for children. Although Breaking Stalin’s Nose has extremely serious themes, its simple vocabulary, short length, and engaging pictures make the novel perfect for young readers, especially those with a penchant for history. Yelchin’s novel expanded my appreciation for the freedom to think for myself, our nation’s impartial justice system, and the equality essential to democracy. I encourage you to read this book as well, discovering for yourself the countless things you take for granted every day. Isabella T., age 15, Memphis Mensa
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very well written and it kept my attention from the start. It is a very different perspective of Stalin. The boy wants to be like Stalin. The only reason I rated it four stars instead of five was because the ending seemed like a cliffhanger, so I'm wondering if there is a sequel. I would read it if there was.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hated it it was fricin crap sucs to
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worst book I've ever read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was excited to find another newbery ( did I spell that right? ) at the library, and eagerly began reading this. I must admit, I was very dissapointed. I am a cheerful girl, but I do enjoy sad books if they are deep. I found this book to be depressing and shallow. I had no respect at all for the main character, and the book ended very abrubtly, with the few things they wrapped up being shoved in to the last three pages. I am sorry to be do harsh, and I'm just giving my opinion. It is historical fiction, and I know that the book was set tn a depressing time. The author captured that well. Maybe this is a fantastic book, just not for 11 year old girls.
valleygirlVG More than 1 year ago
Breaking Stalin's Nose caught my attention, I love titles, however, working as a school librarian I am confused as to what age group Eugene Yelchin is targeting? Sash'a life changing experience had me glued to the book. It teaches communism, and Stalin's cleansing in a nut shell. Very simple for 6th to 9th graders. If a 1st grader to 4th, came home with this book, as a parent I might be upset. First, I don't think they would get the message, and second it was kinda scarey. When I recieved this book for my collection it was cataloged as juvenile fiction, I cataloged it as YA. Ya is more age appropriate. I also passed the book on to a 7th grade teacher who utilzes Youtube, among other contemporary approachs to teach communism. Good book excellent illustrations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was okay.It has lots of picture but it was short.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was the boom
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It looks like a good book.Is it?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I heard about it in class
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Are you single