My kiddos and I read this book and we LOVED it! It's a relatively slim, quick read, great for older elementary and younger middle school grades, but it could also be used as a quick read in 7th and 8th grades to help students understand POV (point-of-view) and compare what living in the U.S.S.R. under Stalin was like for students, to their own experiences.
Sasha Zaichik lives in a communal apartment with his father, who works for State Security, or secret police, in Moscow. But his father and he are not above Stalin's purges. A jealous member of the commune makes a complaint against them, Sasha's father is hauled away to Lubyanka prison and Sasha runs to an Aunt, who refuses to take him in.
But Sasha doesn't want to miss school the next day. He's set to put on a red scarf and become a Young Pioneer, devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party and Communism. He believes with the belief of the very young that Comrade Stalin will rescue his father, put this wrong right, and his Dad will come to his school to see him take the Young Pioneer oath.
But then Sasha accidentally breaks the nose off a bust of Stalin in his school, and everything crumbles. I won't ruin how it ends. Just know, there were many tears, and the ending is heartbreaking in how it doesn't resolve anything, really, for Sasha, at all.
Teaching Note: There is a free Discussion Guide for this book, offered by Yelchin at his website, and an excellent website exploring Sasha Zaichik's Stalinist Moscow with all kinds of excellent resources for students to get a better understanding of Stalinist-era Russia. There's a 1:19 synopsis video of the book, told from Sasha's POV. There are pictures and text explaining the following: Sasha's Moscow, with text explanations; communal living; the secret police Sasha's Dad worked for; how Sasha's mother, an American, gave up her citizenship and was killed; the Young Pioneers; scenes and items inside a typical Soviet school; how Stalin was seen by the public; who was deemed an "Enemy of the State"; and finally Lubyanka prison.