Breaking Stalin’s Nose
Written and Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
In the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, ten-year-old Sasha idolizes his father, a devoted Communist, but when police take his father away and leave Sasha homeless, he is forced to examine his own perceptions, values, and beliefs.
Primary Source Pairing:
Sasha believes what he’s been told by his family, community, and the government. He aspires to be a good citizen and to embody the values of a Young Pioneer. After his father is taken away, a door is closed on him at his aunt’s house, and an accident happens at school involving breaking the nose of the Stalin statue, Sasha isn’t quite sure what he believes anymore. The Author’s Note is a must read to put Eugene Yelchin’s story into context. Yelchin is also the illustrator of the pictures that accompany the text. These are not to be skipped – and instead, should be analyzed in context with the plot. Use the BreakingStalinsNose_ReadersBookmark with students to help guide their process of reading and looking at this book.
For this primary source pairing, invite students to examine a Russian propaganda poster from 1951. Let this begin a discussion about Sasha and how he changes during the book. Consider what Sasha would think of the poster at the beginning of the book and how his feelings may change about the poster by the end of the book.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
- What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
- How are the words arranged?
- What do you see on the page besides writing?
- What people and objects are shown?
- How are they arranged?
- What is the physical setting?
- What’s happening in the image?
- What other details can you see?
- How does this poster make you feel?
- How do you think it would have made Sasha feel?
- Consider his feelings about the poster at the beginning of the book.
- Infer how his feelings about the poster have evolved at the end of the book.
Poster Translation: “Be ready for the struggle for the cause of Lenin-Stalin!”