Breaking Stalin's Nose

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Breaking Stalin's Nose Book Poster Image
Newbery Honor-winning tale of growing up in Stalinist USSR.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn through the eyes of a 10-year-old child what it was like to live in the Soviet Union during Stalin's regime. At first Sasha is a devoted Communist, but his loyalty is tested when his father is arrested. As he begins to wonder what's really going on behind the government's words and promises, questions will also be raised in the mind of the reader.

Positive Messages

The world Sasha lives in is filled with paranoia and behind-the-scenes violence, but Sasha is naïve and persists in believing that Stalin will look out for him, even after his father is taken away by the State Security in the middle of the night. Although Sasha comes to see the reality of the situation he and other Soviets are in, he also realizes there is not much they can do about it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sasha tries to do the right thing, but it is difficult for him to succeed in a world where the authorities encourage him to inform on his classmates, even if it means lying. Because Sasha is so passionate about his belief in Communism and blind to the true fates of many people around him who have disappeared, it takes him a while to see the truth. He adores his father and believes the police must have made a mistake in arresting him, so when his teachers tell him his father is an enemy of the state, he is deeply conflicted. Although two of his classmates try to tell Sasha that the world is not as he sees it, they, too, are bound by the paranoia that surrounds them and cannot do anything about their fate.


There are several references to people, including Sasha's own mother, being executed in prison, but there is no graphic violence.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Eugene Yelchin's wrote Breaking Stalin's Nose to expose and confront the fear and horrors that people lived with under Stalin's dictatorship in the Soviet Union. (He states that clearly in his author's note.) Because the book is told from 10-year-old Sasha's point of view, most of the horrors happen offstage, but they are horrors nonetheless. Accepting that there was nothing Sasha could do to change his or anyone else's situation may be difficult for some readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 12-year-old Written byninashulman March 27, 2013

The best historic fiction of the year

This is an outstanding historic fiction that would teach a child how harmful brainwashing/propaganda is and how important it is to be able to think for yourself... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byRussianReader August 26, 2015


I Loved this book when I had got it from my school library. I thought it would be a fun book for me since being from Russia and loving its history. Although the... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byRussianHistoryReader November 8, 2018

Very nice!

This book pictures how communist propaganda affected younger peoples. It is somewhat realistic, and does not include any violence. Surprisingly, as I was readin... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sasha Zaichik is eager to become one of Stalin's Young Soviet Pioneers. He is particularly excited that his dad, who works in State Security, has agreed to preside over the ceremony at his school. But the night before the ceremony, Sasha's father is arrested. This is the first hint Sasha gets that that Stalin's regime might not be as wonderful as he's always believed it to be. At school the next day Sasha is horrified when he accidentally breaks the nose off a statue of Comrade Stalin. Readers might think he's exaggerating when he says that the authorities will see this as an act of terrorism, but he's not: The State Security is called in. He and his classmates are encouraged to turn the culprit in, because surely only an enemy of the state could do such a thing. Although the truth of the nose never surfaces, Sasha is informed that the only way he can be a Young Soviet Pioneer is to denounce his father publicly. The choice Sasha is forced to make will change his life forever.

Is it any good?

BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE will appeal to readers who are sophisticated enough to see behind the words of an unreliable narrator. Although Sasha is 10, most 10-year-olds won't have enough background information on this period of history to see the depth of Sasha's naiveté or to understand just how misplaced his optimism is. For a middle school student, however, this book will bring to life a long-overlooked period of history that is important to acknowledge. The lack of secondary character development can occasionally make the story read more like a parable than a fully developed novel, but Sasha's voice is fresh and lively and tells a complicated story in a manner that is easy to absorb. Dramatic pencil illustrations throughout add to the appeal, and Yechin's endnote fills in more of the historical background.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it must have been like to live in the Soviet Union during Stalin's dictatorship. Do you think it was possible for anyone to feel safe?

  • Sasha's belief in the Communist Party and Joseph's Stalin's kindness are strong. When did you first suspect that his faith might be misguided? When do you think Sasha himself understood?

  • Two of Sasha's classmates seem to understand what really happens to when the State Security arrests someone. Why do you think they understood this when Sasha did not?

  • Sasha feels as if he should confess that he broke Stalin's nose but he cannot bring himself to do so. Do you think he should have?

  • Are you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not?

Book details

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For kids who love history

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