Reviews for Breaking Stalin's Nose


Booklist Reviews 2011 October #2
Growing up under Stalin, Sasha Zaichik, 10, lives with his widower dad and 48 others in a crowded apartment with one kitchen and one toilet. Sasha's dream is to be like his father, serving the great leader and working in the State Security secret police. Then his dad is arrested: did a neighbor betray him? At school, Sasha is recruited to report on anticommunist activity. The present-tense narrative is true to the young kid's naive viewpoint, but the story is for older readers, especially as the shocking revelations reach the climax of what torture can make you confess. Picture-book illustrator Yelchin was raised in post-Stalinist Russia in the 1960s and left the country when he was 27. In his first novel, he uses the child's innocent viewpoint to dramatize the heartbreaking secrets and lies, and graphite illustrations show the terrifying arrests of enemies of the people, even children, like Sasha's classmate. In an afterword, Yelchin discusses the history and the brutal regime that affected millions. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
Ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik loves Stalin and the Communist party. He's especially proud of his father, a member of the secret police. Sasha's worldview shifts after his father is arrested. Although the story takes place over just two days, it is well paced, peeling off the layers of Sasha's naiveti. Appropriately menacing illustrations add a sinister tone. Copyright 2012 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #5
It would be hard to find a boy more excited about becoming a Young Pioneer than ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik. While some kids might love soccer or baseball, Sasha loves Stalin and the Communist party. He embraces life in his crowded communal apartment; he doesn't even mind knowing the intimate details of his neighbors' eating and bathroom habits. Sasha is especially proud of his father, a hero and a member of the secret police, dedicated to catching enemies every day. It doesn't take long for cracks to appear in the veneer of Sasha's view of the world, however. First, his father is arrested in the middle of the night, leaving the boy alone. Sasha hangs on to his illusions until he cannot help but face the dreadful facts: he will not become a Young Pioneer, he is now a pariah at school, his father is not coming back, and his dream of meeting Stalin is dashed. For most middle graders, the history of Stalinist oppression will be new information, and this story is a start at filling in the blanks. Like Antonio Skármeta's picture book The Composition, this brief novel gets at the heart of a society that asks its citizens, even its children, to report on relatives and friends. Appropriately menacing illustrations by first-time novelist Yelchin add a sinister tone. Although the story takes place over just two days, it is well paced, peeling off the layers of Sasha's naiveté to show him -- and young readers -- the cynicism of the system he trusted. robin l. smith Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2011 August #1

"There's no place for the likes of you in our class," Sasha Zaichik's teacher tells him, and that seems to be the motto of the whole Stalinist nation.

Yelchin's debut novel does a superb job of depicting the tyranny of the group, whether residents of a communal apartment, kids on the playground, students in the classroom or government officials. It's the readiness of the group to create outsiders—bad ones, "unreliables," "wreckers"—by instilling fear in everyone that chills. Not many books for such a young audience address the Stalinist era, when, between 1923 and 1953, leaving a legacy of fear for future generations. Joseph Stalin's State Security was responsible for exiling, executing or imprisoning 20 million people. Sasha is 10 years old and is devoted to Stalin, even writing adoring letters to Comrade Stalin expressing his eagerness at becoming a Young Pioneer. But his mother has died mysteriously, his father has been imprisoned and Sasha finds he has important moral choices to make. Yelchin's graphite illustrations are an effective complement to his prose, which unfurls in Sasha's steady, first-person voice, and together they tell an important tale.

A story just as relevant in our world, "where innocent people face persecution and death for making a choice about what they believe to be right," as that of Yelchin's childhood. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Media Connection Reviews 2012 January/February
Ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik wants to be a good Communist, just like his father. He eagerly awaits the moment when he becomes a Young Pioneer. But the night before the ceremony, his father is arrested as an enemy to the people. When Sasha returns to school, he accidentally damages a bust of Stalin. There are few books written for young readers about the Stalinist era, but Yelchin's debut book does an excellent job showing how Stalin employed fear and terror. The children are encouraged to single out one or more of their fellow students for the crime, afraid that they themselves might become suspect. It is easy for the reader to identify with Sasha and his predicament. Velchin's b&w illustrations are an effective match to his writing style, which unfolds in Sasha's first-person voice, and together they tell an important tale. Jennifer Hartshorn, Children's Librarian, Concord, New Hampshire [Editor's Note: Available in e-book format.] RECOMMENDED ¬ 2011 Linworth Publishing, Inc.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 August #1

Picture book author/illustrator Yelchin (Won Ton) makes an impressive middle-grade debut with this compact novel about a devoted young Communist in Stalin-era Russia, illustrated with dramatically lit spot art. Ten-year-old Sasha lives with his father, a State Security secret policeman whom he worships (almost as much as he worships Stalin), and 46 others in a communal apartment. The story opens on the eve of the fulfillment of Sasha's dream--to become a Young Soviet Pioneer--and traces the downward spiral of the following 24 hours, as he resists his growing understanding that his beloved Communist state is far from ideal. Through Sasha's fresh and optimistic voice, Yelchin powerfully renders an atmosphere of fear that forces false confessions, even among schoolchildren, and encourages neighbors and family members to betray one another without evidence. Readers will quickly pick up on the dichotomy between Sasha's ardent beliefs and the reality of life under Stalinism, and be glad for his ultimate disillusion, even as they worry for his future. An author's note concisely presents the chilling historical background and personal connection that underlie the story. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2011 PWxyz LLC

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 August

Gr 5-7--Velchin skillfully combines narrative with dramatic black-and-white illustrations to tell the story of life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Sasha Zaichik, the 10-year-old son of a member of the secret police, is bursting with pride because he is ready to become a Young Pioneer. He is equally excited that his father will be officiating at the ceremony. But then he watches as his father is taken away to prison, turned in by a neighbor vying for bigger living quarters. Sasha joins his peers in taunting Borka Finkelstein, their only Jewish classmate, even though readers sense that he doesn't really want to do it. The question of who is a good Communist underlies much of the plot. The book's intriguing title refers to Sasha's accidentally breaking the nose off a bust of Stalin. Borka, desperate to see his imprisoned parents, confesses to the action, with the hope that he will be taken to prison, too. Sasha does not admit his own guilt. Eventually disillusionment overtakes homeless Sasha as he waits in line to visit his father. Velchin's illustrations are filled with pathos and breathe life into the narrative. Though there are many two-dimensional characters, mostly among the adults, Sasha and Borka are more fully drawn. While the story was obviously created to shed light on the oppression, secrecy, and atrocities under Stalin's regime, Sasha's emotions ring true. This is an absorbing, quick, multilayered read in which predictable and surprising events intertwine. Velchin clearly dramatizes the dangers of blindly believing in anything. Along with Ruta Sepetys's Between Shades of Gray (Philomel, 2011), this selection gives young people a look at this dark history.--Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

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