Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WWRW: Children's Book Review -- Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

Published: September 27, 2011
Audience: Ages 9-12; Grades 4-7
Awards & Honors: Newbery Honor (2012); ALA Notable Children's Books (2012). 
Genre: Children's Literature, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Setting: Soviet Union, 1950s; Kremlin in Moscow, Russia 

Synopsis: 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 time to finally join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has waited 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 last night. 

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

(synopsis as seen on

My Rating: 5/5 Stars 

My thoughts: This book was fantastically written and the illustrations are a wonderful touch to this short children's novel on Stalin's reign in Communist Russia. Loosely based on the author's life, this story paints a very realistic picture of what the Russian people's lives were like ruled under Stalin's iron fist. 

I think what's so memorable about this book is seeing the effects of tyranny through the eyes of a child. Sasha is so innocent, believing in his world that Stalin is a "father for all" and it's saddening to watch everything this child believes come crashing down before his very eyes.  The fears expressed are very genuine and convincing for the character's age, and it seems to me that many young children could relate, perhaps not specifically to the Sasha's situation, but in dealing with fears such as his. 

The illustrations and light text make this a great read for kids possibly as young as mature third graders.  The depictions and reality of living conditions in the USSR are unpleasant but excellently crafted.  The subject matter is of course, harrowing at times, but the writing is never gruesome or so off-color that it becomes unsuitable for the middle-grade audience.  As a matter of fact, I applaud Yelchin's efforts at creating a poignant, heart-breaking novel without ever becoming graphically violent.  

This novel is probably best suited for children in grades 4-6, and may even have some appeal to reluctant readers due to the brevity of the text, but I think even older kids and adults could also very much enjoy this book.  Well-deserving of the Newbery Honor in my opinion! 


  1. Thanks, Katie! It sounds like it might be a little young for my Jr. high kids, but it would be great for the younger grades. I'll put a rec out to our library!

  2. It's tough to say... you might get some in middle school that think it's too "babyish" because of the illustrations, and 10-year-old narrator, but honestly, the subject matter could make it fitting for middle school. Kids who are reluctant to pick up larger books may be not so put off by this one :) I'd say up to 7th grade, but it's probably ideal for 5th-6th.