The paranormal: they're just like us! This was the conceit in Flavia Z. Drago's picture book Gustavo, the Shy Ghost, and in her equally heart-melting follow-up, Leila, the Perfect Witch, which reminds readers that winning a trophy is only one way to feel like a winner.
Young witch Leila Wayward, who lives in a gingerbread house with her family, has many talents: she's "the sneakiest shape-shifter," "the craftiest carver in her coven" and more. But never mind all that: what Leila wants most is to be an expert in the Dark Arts of Patisserie, like her prize-winning older sisters. Determined to win the Magnificent Witchy Cake-Off, Leila tests recipes until she has perfected... a mess. (Maybe she used too much wool of bat?) Mercifully, her sisters give her some pointers, and at the Cake-Off, Leila makes it to the finals! And the winner is... not Leila. But by the end of her adventure she realizes that "when she was having fun, she felt like a winner."
As she did in Gustavo, the Shy Ghost, Drago spikes her mixed-media art, this time in an atmospherically somber secondary-color-heavy palette, with witty vignettes (among Leila's trophies is one for "Spelling"). But Leila, the Perfect Witch has sobering things to say about the importance of coping with disappointment gracefully and being there for others when they're down. Sharp readers won't miss the empathetic Basil, Leila's froggy familiar, miming her facial affect in many a dramatic scene, and they'll surely find the witch's angst relatable, regardless of her otherworldly ways. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author