TITLE: Breaking Stalin’s Nose
AUTHOR: Eugene Yelchin
LENGTH: 160 pages
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co. (Books for Young Readers)
SUMMARY: (via amazon.com) Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:
A Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, & 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.
BRIDGE: There are so many things that could be done with this book. The most logical choice is to use this book in a history or government class to introduce students to Communism, Stalin, and the concept of Fascism or Totalitarianism. And along this vein, bridging this book to Orwell’s Animal Farm for younger readers or Anna Karenina for older readers would be easy. The book’s simplicity would make the concepts easy for younger readers to understand and older readers could dissect the fallacies of logic that Sasha makes when his father is arrested. Readers could also examine the book’s tone and discuss how the illustrations add to the mood. This would be a great text to use in conjunction with Wonder by R.J. Palacio. discuss bullying and how people in positions of authority or from a mis-applied sense of helpfulness will bully someone into a way of thinking for his/her own good.
READERS: This book will appeal to younger and struggling readers. The short chapters make it approachable and the illustrations are meaningful without being overwhelming. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy the references to Communist Russia and its unspoken policy of secrecy and subversion. Students who struggle with historical connections will enjoy the sincerity of Sasha’s story and the hope provided at the end.
OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book will also enjoy The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon, or Inside Out & Back Again by Thannha Lai.