Gustavo the Shy Ghost

Written and illustrated by Flavia Z. Drago
40 pages  •  Published 2020 (Candlewick)
Book cover
Recommended Age Range: Preschool through 2nd grade.
Publisher's Summary: Gustavo is good at doing all sorts of ghostly things: walking through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark. And he loves almost nothing more than playing beautiful music on his violin. But Gustavo is shy, and some things are harder for him to do, like getting in a line to buy eye scream or making friends with other monsters. Whenever he tries getting close to them, he realizes they just can’t see him. Now that the Day of the Dead is fast approaching, what can he do to make them notice him and to share with them something he loves?
Book cover

Dr. Annie's Takeaways

Recommended for: This book is a fun read for a child who is shy and/or quiet, and needs a reminder that others will appreciate them for their strengths and passions, just as they are, if they can be brave, be themselves, and let others get to know them! Available in English and Spanish.
Would a child like it? Yes! Many children would enjoy this book. The illustrations have a lot of fun details to notice, and the story is charming.
Evidence-Based Practices: Exposure
Tone: Sweet, a bit funny
Story Quality: I really enjoyed this story. It’s clever, and there’s a richness to Gustavo’s world, despite this being a 40-page picture book. I love how Gustavo morphs himself into different objects (e.g., a lampshade, a soccer ball, a surfboard), initially to try to interact with other monsters without being noticed, and eventually as a way to be helpful and to protect his friends (e.g., by morphing into an umbrella). In the end, Gustavo remains a ghost of few words, but he finds his place and is loved by the other monsters in his town.
Illustrations: Adorable and detailed Day-of-the-Dead-inspired drawings in what looks like colored pencil.
Representation: The author and illustrator, Flavia Z. Drago was born and raised in Mexico City, and the turning point of the book takes place on the Day of the Dead. Gustavo is a male ghost with ghostly parental figures who appear to be a mother and a father. There is a page that mentions that Gustavo is “secretly in love with Alma, the prettiest monster in town.” The book is also available in Spanish.
Psychological Practices: This story encourages shy children to be brave enough to be themselves and embrace their passions (Gustavo’s is playing the violin) without worrying about what others will think, and it holds the promise that if they do this, others will notice and appreciate them for who they are. By focusing on what he loves and bravely inviting others to join him, he is noticed by the other monsters who never paid attention to him before. After this moment, they appreciate and love him just as he is, and he becomes a valued member of their town. It’s a decent strategy for making friends who share one’s interests.
Concerns: None

Watch a Read-Aloud: YouTube (not affiliated with Dr. Annie's Bookshelf)