Mariajo Ilustrajo is a prize winning illustrator who creates wonderfully rich stories with minimal text and striking artwork.

Her debut book Flooded, published in 2022, swept her to immediate acclaim winning both the Klaus Flugge Prize and the UKLA Book Award. It is a beautiful picture book of vibrant pantone colours, with a humorous, upbeat story and strong climate change message.

Mariajo followed the success of Flooded with Lost, a touching story about the power of love and friendship, cementing her as a vital new picture book talent. Told through bright expressive illustrations that use the page in a variety of creative ways, it is a visual delight from start to finish. Her latest book, I Love Books, is a love story to books and reading, celebrating the untold adventures to be enjoyed between the pages of a good book. 

For LR4K editorial expert Andrea Reece, I Love Books is a witty, utterly delightful introduction to the joy of reading. "New from award-winning author illustrator Mariajo Ilustrajo, this witty picture book is an utterly delightful introduction to the joy of books and reading. It’s the start of the school holidays and this little girl can’t wait: no early mornings, no spelling tests, no reading – she HATES books. But their teacher announces they have to read a whole book before school starts again, so Mum suggests a trip to the library and, when nothing there appeals, finds a book she loved as a child. And guess what? Our young bibliophile is soon engrossed. We know just how much she’s enjoying the story because the pages change from pinky grey wash to full colour, our young protagonist picked out in day glo orange as she embarks on some unputdownable adventures with a new (animal) friend. By the end, she’s well and truly under the spell of the story. Every page of the story within the story will be a thrill for readers, young and old, while the real life activities are just as vivid and entertaining. If you love books – even if you thought you didn’t – you’ll love this!"

We are thrilled to welcome Mariajo Ilustrajo as our Guest Editor for March. A great advocate of the power of picture books, Mariajo shares with us her top recommendations of picture books for all ages to enjoy, from books she loved as a child to stories published this month.

Hello everyone,

I am Mariajo Ilustrajo the author and illustrator of Flooded, Lost and most recently I Love Books! I’ve been drawing since I can remember. It’s always been my favourite thing to do and since I was little I wanted to become an artist.

I studied illustration at the school of art, Arte 10 in Madrid and Graphic Communication at Bath Spa University in Bath. I worked many years as an illustrator / designer on a different range of projects, from murals to greetings cards, but my real passion and dream was always to illustrate books.

After finishing my masters in Children’s Books Illustration, at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge, I fulfilled my dream by publishing my first book as an author and illustrator. I can’t believe how well received my books have been and I hope I can keep creating more books over the coming years!

For me it is very fun to play with new materials, colours and to create new characters. It’s very exciting to create someone in a sketchbook and think: “Right! Who are you!? and... What’s your story!?” I am not a writer so I need to ask my characters to tell me their story and I am just the hand to draw it.

I am very excited and honoured to be the guest editor this month at LoveReading4Kids, it’s such a great platform! And I would love to share with you some of my favourite books.


Q. As an author illustrator I have always wanted to know if the ideas for your books appear first to you as an image, perhaps of a character, or if the words or perhaps the theme, come first? Or has it varied with every book?

A. I think a mix of! I don’t consider myself a writer (I think I would feel like an impostor calling myself one), but I guess I have ideas and I am able to organise them together through my illustrations. Often I have an image in my head, a character, a concept, a punchline! So I start drawing and start connecting ideas or trying to think what I want to say, or more correctly, what those characters want to say. Eventually all those thoughts and sketches become a story. For example with Flooded everything started with a one off image of some animals at the Oxford Circus platform. The first question was who are these animals? Where are they going? At some point after many questions and some sketches the idea of what if the city got flooded popped into my head and then some sketches around that idea came out. At that point of the story you could go any direction! For I hate (love) books the idea came from a one off image that I did as an experimentation just for the sake of using a new material I had just bought!

Q. Do you think images are a universal language and that is why picture books can sell so well in translation across the world? But having said that, do you have to be careful to make details of setting or clothing etc neutral so that it could be anywhere?

A. I would say your second question replies a bit to your first one! I think as a general rule, images are a universal language, but there are some things that might be too specific of a place so I guess it is better to keep things neutral if you want your books to be more universal. As an illustrator you want to create your own world and often it is based on what you know, however this might be too different to the other side of the world or have a different reading. I actually had this conversation with my art director and I feel this is a bit controversial. You want to do your own thing, but if it’s too specific to your own country, then other countries might not be able to identify with your work, hence they won’t be interested in publishing it and I guess at the end of the day it’s a business and you want the book to do well all around the globe’s a tricky decision!

Q. Your latest book is the first to have a human main character - why do you think so many picture books feature animals?

A. I guess animals are more neutral and easier for representation. Anyone could feel identified with a panda or a lion but with a human character you reduce that. Also they are really fun to draw!

Q. I Love Books has a lovely message about reading - the journey the little girl goes on seems very personal. Were you that little girl and initially a reluctant reader?

A. Haha, indeed I was! I was a very bad reader at school. In fact I didn’t like books at all, but at some point (thanks to my sisters) I realised that I didn’t hate books but I wasn’t offered a good choice of books. At school they made us read these old classics that, as good as they might be, to me they were veeeery boring! Maybe if they made us read something like Harry Potter instead I might have a different opinion.

Q. What was the first book you fell in love with?

A. I actually don’t remember which one was the first one, but I remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that one of my sisters lent me (that’s why this book is dedicated to my sisters). I was fascinated with that kid who chewed bubble gum for so long and at night put it behind her ear! So fun! A bit later on at high school, the literature teacher made us read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, my very first super long book (like 1,200 pages) and I devoured it! There I realised that there are not bad readers but bad options offered. That’s why I think it is very important to show kids that there are a lot of options out there! What do you like? Adventures? Sci-fi? Humour...? There is a book out there for everyone.

Q. Which illustrators have influenced and inspired you?

A. I always find this question very difficult to answer. I think there are a lot of our heroes in our own illustrations, but I tend not to look at other illustrators for inspiration, as I wouldn’t like to subconsciously copy them. Anything is an inspiration though! An exhibition, movies or things from daily life like a tea box packaging. I guess I could mention some of my current favourite illustrators like Isabel Arsenault, Julia Sarda, Jon Klassen, Sydney Smith, Felicita Sala or Rebecca Dautremer.

Q. One in three of all books sold is a children's book yet children's books get such little review space in the media. Why do you think this is - and what can be done?

A. Well, I had no idea about these numbers, but I guess people often have the belief that because they are so short and are made of “pretty pictures” they are effortlessly done, when the reality is that a 24-40 page children’s book takes almost a year to complete and a huge team behind the scenes to make it happen. I guess we just need to get noisy! More advertisement, media press and more platforms like LoveReading4Kids!

Q. What does LoveReading4Kids mean to you?

A. I think it is such a great platform to find books and recommendations, and cheer the love of reading. I loved seeing that I Love Books is one of your Star Books! Thank you!

As our Guest Editor, Mariajo has given us her top five children's book recommendations, and told us a little about why she feels they are books every child would enjoy:

Please, Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe  My must do when I am on holiday is to find a book shop. I found this one on a trip to the US and it was love at first sight. I love how they played with the concept of a book and turning pages. A monkey is very happy that you've opened the first page, but on each page this little monkey gets more worried as they will disappear again once you close the book. Brilliant! 

Mi Hermano Pequeno Invisible (In english: My Little Invisible Brother) by Ana Pez   The illustrations are simple (in the good sense of the word), fresh and playful, created in 3 Pantones. Two different stories told in one book. You can read it once and then read it with a pair of red filter glasses that come with the book and you will see a different story. Simply genius!

No! by Marta Altés  I could have chosen any of her books. All equally brilliant and beautifully illustrated. No! is her first book published and it's so fun how the text contradicts the images. Such a sweet and fun character!

Historias de Ratones (Mouse tales) by Arnold Lobel This is one of my most precious books. I always had a warm memory of this book from nursery, but it was out of print for a long time. A few years ago my sister bought me a new reprint and I was so chuffed! A must have old classic collection of short tales.

D is for Dog by Em Lynas and Sara Ogilve One of my most recent favourites! So simple and yet so perfect. A very playful alphabet book, beautifully illustrated, perfect for bedtime and dog lovers.

And Mariajo has chosen five recently published children's picture books that she feels deserve a special mention;

Thank You by Jarvis Such a simple concept illustrated so warmly and beautifully. I liked his work before, but this book is beyond beautiful. You can feel the playfulness and joy of creating art on every page.

Rewild the World at Bedtime by Emily Hawkins and illustrated by Ella Beech A collection of non-fiction stories of how nature restores itself, beautifully illustrated by Ella Beech. I love her folk and elegant creatures. Perfect for little animal lovers and bedtime.

My Friend Andy by Emma Chinnery I had the pleasure of studying with Emma at the MA Children's Books Illustration and you are in for a treat! Emma's life drawing skills and fresh brushstrokes come alive in the most heartwarming story. Can't wait to see more of her stories in the future!

This Book Will Make You an Artist by Ruth Millington and illustrated by Ellen Surrey Such a fun book for the little artists in the house. I would have loved this one when I was a child!

There's a Tiger on the Train by Mariesa Dulak and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb A very current tale, illustrated in a very fun and fresh way. Really recommend it!

With thanks to Mariajo for her brilliant recommendations. You can find her books below, and also hear her in conversation with LoveReading MD Deborah Maclaren and judges Lydia Monks and Dr Sarah McConnell, after she won the 2023 Klaus Flugge Prize awarded to the most promising newcomer to children's book illustration.