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Breaking Stalin's Nose
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
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