“When hunger gnaws inside my belly, I tell myself that a future Pioneer has to repress cravings for such unimportant matters as food. Communism is just over the horizon; soon there will be plenty of food for everyone…I wonder what it’s like in the capitalist countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if children there had never even tasted a carrot.”
More than anything, 10-year-old Sasha Zaichik wants to be a member of the Young Soviet Pioneers in Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha can hardly wait for tomorrow’s Pioneer rally, when all of his dreams will be realized. However, as the big day gets close, things go terribly wrong for Sasha. First, his stalwart father is taken away by the State Security in the middle of the night. As Sasha’s mother had died under mysterious circumstances some time before, this leaves Sasha frighteningly alone. He is no longer welcome in the komunalka that he shares with 48 other citizens, so he is put out into deserted and icy streets in the middle of the night.
Sasha suffers more indignities but determinedly makes his way to school in the morning, sure that as soon as he is a Pioneer things will work themselves out. Unfortunately, things go from bad to worse for Sasha, and he very quickly loses many things that he once considered important to his identity.
This is a book for children 4th grade and up, and it is accompanied by black and white illustrations. Although the subject matter is grim -- life indeed was bleak in Stalinist Russia -- it is not despairing. The author, Eugene Yelchin, lived in Soviet Russia until he was 27, when he immigrated to the United States. Breaking Stalin’s Nose won a 2012 Newbery Honor Award. To learn more about the book, visit its Web page.