Leila, the Perfect Witch by Drago, the winner of the 2021 Klaus Flugge Prize, takes us on another delightful journey into the vibrant world of Mexican culture and imagery. Fans of Drago’s previous work will recognize Leila as a charming character who made a guest appearance in Flavia’s debut, Gustavo, the Shy Ghost. Drawing inspiration from her own experiences, Drago crafts a tale where Leila excels in many areas and garners awards for her accomplishments. However, when it comes to baking—the one skill the author’s own big sister has mastered yet she had not —Leila finds herself struggling.
With a captivating blend of sorcery, traditional witchy tropes, and Mexican folklore, Drago skillfully merges Western influences to create a comic and heartwarming narrative. Green-skinned and accompanied by her froggy familiar, Basil, Leila is a determined witch who strives to be the best in her class. Upon discovering a baking competition, she ventures to excel on her own, only to realize that baking doesn’t come naturally to her. Thankfully, her sisters Lucy, Fer, and Adelfa (paying visual homage here to Dahl, Erdmann and Slavic folklore) step in, offering their wisdom and a guiding rolling pin. Not only does Leila learn valuable lessons from her sisters, but she also forges stronger bonds with them.
While the competition’s outcome may not align with Leila’s initial aspirations, she quickly realizes that the true prize lies in the strengthened familial ties. This refreshing and beautiful lesson resonates with readers, defying the conventional notion that challenges always lead to immediate success in children’s books. Drago’s narrative is filled with intertextual references that entertain accompanying older readers, and the meticulous attention to detail encourages multiple re-readings. Personally, I find myself a devoted fan of Drago’s work, as she challenges stereotypes and playfully subverts traditional notions of terror. May she continue tickling those terror tropes while providing us with wholesome, uplifting stories that prioritize kindness and friendship above all else.