The Importance of Persistence by a Brooklyn Dad and Illustrator

Valeri Gorbachev is an illustrator and dad who now lives in Brooklyn. His latest illustrations appear in “Rufus Goes to School,” a children’s book about a little pig Rufus who does everything he can to get a seat in the classroom.

I grew up in the former Soviet Union, what is now Ukraine, so you may be surprised to hear the same answer from me that you’ve probably heard from American artists. In school, I didn’t really listen to my teachers. I just wanted to draw. Drawing, drawing, drawing…all the time. I also loved books: literature. Drawing and books have always been important to me. Only one thing could drag me away from drawing when I was young: soccer! During breaks from class I forgot all about schoolwork, all about drawing, and I headed outside to play soccer.

Rufus Goes to School
Rufus Goes to School

What I love about Rufus is that he knows what he wants (to learn to read his favorite book) and he doesn’t give up even when he’s told “No pigs in school!” Instead of taking his backpack and going home, he watches the other schoolchildren.

Why does he do that? I think he’s like a little scientist, coming up with one theory after another, and then testing each theory: If I want to go to school, I need a lunchbox, Rufus decides. So he brings one. When that doesn’t work, he peers through the window and sees the kids napping. Oh, he thinks! I need a blanket.

It’s funny to see a little pig using his brain to figure out what he needs to have to go to school. Try fail, try fail, try fail…try—succeed! This is Rufus’s lesson to others. First, if you don’t try and try again, you have no chance to get what you want. Second, if you don’t give up and you keep trying new things, eventually you will find success.

I have two children, Kostya and Sasha. They’re now grown up, but I remember how they were in school. I was a professional artist in Russia when my children were young. Artists were very important there and received a great deal of support from the State: I had a studio, materials, whatever I needed to create my work. Back then I drew cartoons for magazines and I had a series of picture books about another little pig: Hrusha.

Here in America, there are so many children’s book illustrators—very good ones—a lot of competition. In Russia, there were just a few children’s book illustrators and I had the pleasure of being one of them. In 1991, I was allowed to leave Russia with my children and my wife and come to America. I packed copies of my children’s books inside my suitcase. I was very worried that they would be taken away at the security checkpoint, but the official recognized my books and my Hrusha. He loved the character and felt a connection to my work, so he waved us through.

Pictures are a universal language. They open doors and bring smiles to the sternest of faces. I taught my children to draw because drawing was the one thing I could help them with in their lives. Both of my children became artists. My daughter, Sasha, is a mother first. She has six children who keep her busy, busy, busy. But when she has time, she loves to paint portraits and historical subjects. Kostya, my son, often chooses nature as his subject, but he also enjoys painting people.