Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, October 29, 2020

An Apparition In Need

Caregivers and educators tell you, regardless of the time of year, when given the choice most children overwhelming request scary stories.  Of scary stories, stories about ghosts are in high demand.  In fact, children are eager to share their own ghost stories based on personal experiences or family legends.

By definition, ghosts are the souls or spirits of departed beings.  Their ability to be seen or unseen varies.  Gustavo: The Shy Ghost (Candlewick Press, July 14, 2020) written and illustrated by Flavia Z. Drago and the Spanish edition Gustavo: El Fantasmita Timido released on the same date is the story of a ghost who wants and needs the other monsters to see him.

Gustavo era
un fantasmita.

Como a cualquier otro ser paranormal, le gustaba
hacer las cosas que le eran normales: atravesar
paredes, hacer volar objetos o brillar en la oscuridad.

Gustavo was a ghost
He enjoyed doing the normal things that
paranormal beings do---passing through walls,
making objects fly, and glowing in the dark.  

Of all the things in Gustavo's world, he loved playing the violin the most.  He had a secret. He loved Alma, another monster in town, but he never declared his affections to her.  

Gustavo was much too bashful.  He wanted to join the other youngsters in their activities, but it frightened him.  Yes, it did.  He disguised himself as other objects to get near them, but they did not notice him.  This saddened him.

The little ghost knew he had to be proactive if he wanted friends.  He wrote a letter to all the other monster children, inviting them to a violin concert in the cemetery during the Day of the Dead. A full moon was expected.

When the date arrived, Gustavo went to the cemetery. No one came.  Gustavo decided to do what he loved most, he played and played and played his violin.  He gleamed with happiness.  Imagine Gustavo's surprise at hearing sounds he longed to hear.  His life was never the same after that Day of the Dead night under a full moon.  Neither were the lives of anyone else.

Gustavo may be a ghost, but author Flavia Z. Drago's depiction of him and his problem creates an instant connection with readers.  She describes something and someone he loves, just like us.  She explains his fear with examples and his attempts to overcome it.  When he chooses to be brave, we find ourselves cheering for him, especially when he decides to perform his concert for an empty cemetery. Flavia Z. Drago, through Gustavo, shows us how to make a dream come true.  Here is a passage from the book.

As the days went by, Gustavo
couldn't stop thinking . . .
What if no one shows up?
What if they don't
like my music?
What if they don't like me?

Except tonight was The Night
And this time, he couldn't hide.

Conforme el tiempo pasaba,
Gustavo no podia dejar de
pensar . . .
?Y si no llega nadie?
?Y si no les gusta mi musica?
?Y si no les gusto yo?

Pero esta noche era La Noche.
Esta vez no podria esconderse.

The color palette is dazzling in the contrast between brilliant pink and orange.  On the front of the dust jacket, the framing around Gustavo, in his home, features papel picado, a form of art known in Mexico.  Delicate, elaborate patterns are cut into tissue paper.  This framing around Gustavo is varnished.  When you run your fingers over the items in this part of the image, they are raised.

On the back, the theme of papel picado is used to fashion the entire illustration.  The colors are reversed with orange being the prominent color.  Pink is the cut-out places.  The main part of the picture shows Gustavo and Alma in the cemetery together, both smiling. The skeletons, musical notes, lacey edging, and the same border at the top as the front are part of the back illustration.

The book case is white on the front and back.  On the back in pink are the same words shown on the back of the dust jacket.  They are:


On the front big and bold are the eyebrows, eyes, smile, and rosy cheeks of Gustavo.

In two hues of gray, rows, vertical and horizontal, of symbolic skeletons pattern the opening endpapers.  Along the right side is a set of photo booth pictures, four portraits of Gustavo with different facial expressions, curious, smiling, startled, and sad.  For the closing endpapers, the color of the design is two shades of rosy red.  The photographs, numbering six, capture the changes in Gustavo's life.  

These illustrations,

done in mixed media

are enchanting, shifting in size to place emphasis on the story and its pacing.  The intricate details invite readers to pause at every page turn.  They are a reflection of a ghost's life within the Mexican culture.  Gustavo's father is a ghost, and his mother is a skeleton.

The fish in the fishbowl in their living room is a skeleton, but there are bubbles to indicate it is breathing.  A floating teapot is pouring tea into a floating cup for Gustavo's mother.  In the Spanish edition the word NEWS on the mother's newspaper reads NOTICIAS.  EYE-SCREAM on the dessert truck in town is changed to HELADOS YETI.  Little skulls with wings and antennae fly around Gustavo and the other monster children.  Every time you read this book; you will discover more wonderful elements.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It's when Gustavo is trying to get close to the other children by disguising himself as something else other than himself.  On a white background are a group of monsters, five altogether.  There is a skeleton girl wearing a frilly pink hat.  She is waving her arm where bubbles flow from a circle-shaped wire.  She is behind a Frankenstein character.  In front of him is a werewolf in a dress with a bow in her hair.  She is carrying a soccer ball.  Next to her with a hula hoop around its waist is a creature from the Black Lagoon.  Alma is on the far right, carrying a handful of colorful balloons on strings.  Gustavo's face is one of the balloons.  I love this scene.

Gustavo: The Shy Ghost and Gustavo: El Fantasmita Timido written and illustrated by Flavia Z. Drago is in a word, delightful.  Readers of all ages will be fascinated by the artwork and captivated by the story whether it is read in English or Spanish.  The Spanish when read aloud is musical.  For its portrayal of a ghost, a culture, and overcoming shyness, this book needs a place on both your personal and professional bookshelves in both languages.

To learn more about Flavia Z. Drago and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  At her website you can view interior images from this book, not shown in the illustrations at the publisher's website or at Penguin Random House.  Also at the publisher's website are an activity kit and author's note you can download.  Flavia Z. Drago has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  This book and Flavia Z. Drago are showcased by librarian Matthew C. Winner at The Children's Book Podcast.  Please enjoy the video below.

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