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Flavia’s ghostly tale wins major illustration prize

Anglia Ruskin University PhD student Flavia Z Drago has been named as the winner of the 2021 Klaus Flugge Prize, which is awarded to the most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration.

Flavia, who is a recent graduate of the MA in Children’s Book Illustration course at ARU’s Cambridge School of Art, won the £5,000 national prize for her debut picture book Gustavo, the Shy Ghost (Walker Books), which is currently top of The New York Times’ best sellers list for Children’s Picture Books.

The book – heavily inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, Flavia’s love of old horror films and even the 1980s indie band The Smiths – tells the tale of a shy little ghost called Gustavo, who is trying to make friends with other monsters.

Flavia, who was born and grew up in Mexico City, now lives in Cambridge where she is working on a PhD on horror tropes and picture books at ARU. She said: “I feel incredibly happy and honoured to have won this year’s Klaus Flugge Prize! 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 in 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 [The Day of the Dead] 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.

“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.”

Illustrator, author and cartoonist Posy Simmonds, who was one of the judges of this year’s Klaus Flugge Prize, said: “I love Gustavo, the Shy Ghost: it’s fresh, witty, well-paced and a visual treat.”

Flavia becomes the third graduate from ARU’s MA in Children’s Book Illustration course to win the Klaus Flugge Prize in the last four years, following in the footsteps of Eva Eland (When Sadness Comes to Call) last year, and Kate Milner (My Name is Not Refugee) in 2018. Flavia was joined on this year’s shortlist by fellow ARU graduate Rachel Stubbs, with her book My Red Hat (Walker Books).

Flavia’s PhD supervisor Martin Salisbury, Professor of Illustration at ARU, said: “The staff of the MA Children’s Book illustration course are enormously proud to have yet another graduate winner of the prestigious Klaus Flugge Prize. As well as being an MA graduate, Flavia is a current PhD student. On top of that, Gustavo is currently top of The New York Times’ best sellers list.”

Chair of the judges Julia Eccleshare, who is director of the Children’s Programme at the Hay Festival, said: “Each year the Klaus Flugge Prize celebrates the art of picture book illustration and puts the brightest new talent in the spotlight. The illustrators on this year’s shortlist demonstrate extraordinary skill and their very different books bring light, colour, warmth and laughter to readers of all ages. Congratulations to them all and very special thanks again to Klaus Flugge who has done so much to support and promote illustrators throughout his career.”

Jon Green

Senior Press Officer