Gustavo the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago

Review by Logaine Navascués

Candlewick Press (Penguin Random House), July 2020

40 pages, hardcover, $22.99 CAD, ISBN 978-1-5362-1114-6

Ages 3-7, Grades Pre-K–3

Picture Book, Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Comedy

Can even ghosts be scared sometimes? Gustavo is such a kid—a ghost kid—who doesn’t seem to fit in to the loud and playful world of his monster classmates. And although he loves his family and playing the violin, he also feels lonely, and would really like to make new friends—if only it weren’t so terrifying.

With simple words and an uplifting, humorous tone, author/illustrator Flavia Z. Drago tells a tender story about discovering one’s own light, and finding the courage to share it with others. Ghosts are a great metaphor to talk about social anxiety and shyness. While some children feel invisible or want to hide under a sheet, others find they scare everyone away (or are too scared to be around more kids by themselves!).

Taking inspiration from her Mexican roots, Drago creates a fantastic array of cute and friendly creatures—devils, calaveras, witches, sea monsters, and more—using the colourful style of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) decorations. Every spread is a delight to look at, filled with little details and references to contemporary life (like an “eye-scream” truck instead of the ice-cream truck, or a Beetlejuices LP Record), as well as images of traditional Mexican arts and crafts.

This sweet, funny, and encouraging story is a good companion to other ghostly tales about overcoming shyness, being oneself, and valuing diversity, such as Ben Clanton’s Boo Who? or The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt, written by Riel Nason and illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler. Gustavo the Shy Ghost has also been published in Spanish.

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher, and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books, and eating chocolate while pursuing her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (MACL) at UBC.

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