Drago wins Klaus Flugge Prize for Gustavo the Shy Ghost

Drago wins Klaus Flugge Prize for Gustavo the Shy Ghost

Flavia Z Drago has won the £5,000 Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration with her book Gustavo the Shy Ghost (Walker Books).

The book tells the story of a little ghost who, despite being so shy he is invisible to the other monsters, eventually finds a way to make friends.

Drago was born and raised in Mexico City and said her book takes inspiration from her favourite Mexican tradition, the Day of the Dead celebrations, particularly in its bright pink and orange palette. 

She said: “When I started work on the book, I didn’t notice how much I had in common with Gustavo, but as I got to understand him, I realised that telling this story was important for me because I wanted to show that being shy doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy the company of people—or in this case, monsters! It just means that you find it difficult to connect with others. Some of the things that happen to Gustavo are based on my own experiences. When I was in kindergarten, just like Gustavo I sat by myself during lunch breaks, watching children play while being amazed by the fact that they seemed to be completely happy to talk and play with each other.

"The main difference between Gustavo and me is that, sadly, I cannot do the ghostly things like walking through walls, making objects fly, glowing in the dark or playing the violin. However, drawing became a way in which I could connect with others. In a sense, our love for art has been the thing helping us both to connect with others.” 

The judges said they loved the balance of fun and fright in the book, and admired Drago's control of pace and the composition of her illustrations. 

Eva Eland, award judge and winner of the 2020 prize, said: "There is so much to admire and enjoy in Flavia’s book. From the carefully selected colour palette of muted tones, combined with bright orange and pink, to the myriad little details in the illustrations and her endearing and fun characters, Flavia has great control of many different facets of illustration and storytelling, including pacing, colour and a strong sense of design. She also has great drawing skills. She delivers a powerful and universal story, while maintaining a lightheartedness and playful touch that will speak to many little children.” 

On receiving the prize, Drago said she felt "incredibly happy and honoured". She said: "Getting my first picture book published was a dream that started about 10 years ago. The journey was filled with ups and downs, rejection, uncertainty and constant learning. I am so grateful to my lovely team at Walker Books for giving me the opportunity to make a story about shyness and monsters, and for having allowed me to share a glimpse of Mexico and its most beautiful celebration with the rest of the world. Making picture books is a privilege and joy, and I hope that I will be able to keep doing this for many years to come.”

Drago won from a shortlist featuring Rachel Stubbs with My Red Hat (Walker), Charlotte Ager for Child of Galaxies, written by Blake Nuto (Flying Eye Books), John Broadley for While You’re Sleeping by Mick Jackson (Pavilion) and Steve Small for I’m Sticking with You by Smriti Halls (Simon & Schuster Children's Books).