I have read more picture books as an adult than I ever did as a child, and I am picky about my picture books! Stilted language, overlong prose, bad illustrations, and terrible rhymes fill the shelves. One picture book creator who rarely disappoints me is Ukranian-born Valeri Gorbachev. Although he didn’t even speak English when he came to the United States at the end of the cold war, his signature watercolors of anthropomorphized animals first graced the pages of other authors’ work, and he now writes and illustrates his own picture books populated with portly raccoons, spunky rabbits, and turtles – oh, the turtles!
In style and manner, the ink and watercolor creatures he paints have the warmth and character of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad. Like Lobel’s good friends, Goat and Pig lead simple lives, but feel deeply for each other. In The Big Trip, adventurous Pig plans a trip while his friend Goat worries about the dangers, and in That’s What Friends are For, Goat imagines all the terrible things that could have made Pig cry. The relationships focus on things to which children can relate, but are never condescending or dismissive.
Reminiscent of detailed chaos of Richard Scarry, The Missing Chick follows a mother hen and her many neighbors looking high and low for her missing chick. Sharp little eyes will help them search. Like all of Gorbachev’s picture books, this one combines a nice old-fashioned look with a gentle humor that’s easy to share at bedtime.
A perfect example of Gorbachev's connection to the world of children is Turtle's Penguin Day. After reading a book about penguins, Little Turtle transforms himself into a penguin for the day, crafting a costume out of a suit jacket, sharing penguin facts, and spreading penguin fever through his school--until he finds a new obsession. This gentle story is not the flashiest, but it speaks to the mind and heart of a preschooler perfectly.
OC Public Libraries owns almost 40 titles written or illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev – what’s your favorite?