this newbery honor book does not lend itself to a "top 5". it's intense, scary, and has full page, beautiful illustrations. it looks like a book for third graders, but the content is so shocking, i'd have to think about 4th and 5th graders. unlike the hunger games, whose concept- children hunting children - i abhor, this book is based on real events. it's scarier.
sasha's mother has died. in a hospital, he thinks. his father works for the russian state security, whose job it is to unmask disguised enemies. chapter one opens with sasha writing a letter of thanks and joy to stalin, saying his greatest dream is to become a young soviet pioneer. in chapter two, we learn that sasha lives with forty-eight hardworking people in an apartment with one toilet and thin walls that don't go to the ceiling. the little boy's dream of becoming a pioneer is to happen the following day, but a big, black car pulls up in the night. the state security destroy their room and take his father away.
why read it? the author, eugene velchin, does an excellent job of staying with the sasha's perspective. we learn that a gift of a carrot is a treat, and the child is hungry. he wonders what life is like in capitalist countries, where he wouldn't be surprised if a child had never tasted a carrot. also, sasha is resourceful. in addition, the book is so fast paced, older children and adults will read it in one suspenseful sitting. lastly, it has as happy an ending as possible.
so, my highest recommendation for breaking stalin's nose.
and deep appreciation for our democracy.