Velchin, E. (2011). Breaking Stalin’s Nose. Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Plot summary: In Soviet Russia, during the rule of Joseph Stalin, Sasha Zaichik is looking forward to becoming a Young Pioneer, one of the first official steps to becoming a mature Communist. He is very proud of his country, his leader, and his father, who works for State Security. When his father is arrested and taken away in the middle of the night, Sasha is certain it is a mistake as only enemies of the state are arrested and his father can’t be an enemy, can he? Sasha makes his way to school the next day, still looking forward to becoming a Young Pioneer, but when he accidentally breaks the nose off of a bust of Stalin in the hallway, the Young Pioneer ceremony is delayed while each student is required to write down the names of those they think must be responsible. When another child confesses, it leads to a series of events that cause Sasha to consider the idea that the Soviet government may not be as wonderful as he has been taught.
Review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose is an honest portrayal of what life was like in Stalinist Russia, told from Sasha’s viewpoint. Sasha’s unwavering belief in all that he has been taught, his growing unease, and the questions he begins to ask himself, are described in a way that tweens can understand, as they are used to accepting what their parents and other figures of authority tell them and just beginning to question things themselves. While Sasha’s circumstances in Russia are extreme, tweens can empathize and relate to Sasha, his love for his father, and his feelings about his peers at school. Tweens will be able to learn about the horrors of Stalinist Russia along with Sasha, for as he comes to understand what is happening, so will they. Some of the themes and their realities may be more difficult for some tweens to understand and they would benefit from reading the book with guidance, so they can ask questions that are certain to come up, like why Sasha’s father was arrested, what really happens to his father, mother, and the parents of other children, and why people were so afraid and quick to turn on each other. Breaking Stalin’s Nose is an important book and a moving and insightful discussion of the importance of freedom and the opportunity to be able to think, believe, and make choices for yourself without being afraid.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading Level: ATOS Book Level: 4.6 (arbookfind.com)
Interest Level: Ages 10 – 13 (my interpretation)
Subjects/themes: History, Stalin, Communism, family, friends, independence
Awards: Newberry Honor Book 2012
Personal thoughts: Breaking Stalin’s Nose is an incredible book that describes Stalinist Russia in a very accessible and personal way. The fear that individuals lived with on a day-to-day basis is palpable, as well as is the underlying hope that eventually things will get better. It is a wonderful introduction to Stalinist Russia for tweens, as Sasha is very relatable and his understanding of his world will help tweens understand it as well.