Mariajo Ilustrajo

I Love Books
Mariajo Ilustrajo

About Author

Award-winning author and illustrator Mariajo Ilustrajo introduces her new picture book, I Love Books, on ReadingZone.

Mariajo is a Spanish illustrator and designer based in the UK. In 2020 she was crowned overall 'New Talent' winner of the World Illustration Awards, before completing her MA in Children's Illustration at the Cambridge Anglia Ruskin course.

Mariajo loves travelling, cooking and animals - and can always be found with pen and paper in hand. Flooded, her debut picture book, fulfilled her life-long dream of becoming a children's book author-illustrator. You can find her @Ilustrajo on Instagram and on Twitter.



I Love Books (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

March 2024

Mariajo Ilustrajo's I Love Books explores what a love of reading really means. When a girl is given the task of reading a book during the holidays, she is horrified, until her sister gives her a book that she might enjoy.  Soon, the child is lost in a story as the true magic of reading takes hold.

In our Q&A with Mariajo, find out how her own childhood helped inspire her story about reluctant reading, the magical process of growing stories, and the secret stories she loves to layer into her images.

Q&A with Mariajo Ilustrajo

"I remembered how much I hated reading at school and how my sisters helped me to realise
I didn't hate reading itself, but the books I was offered at school."


1.    Can you tell us about yourself, and what brought you into creating picture books? Where did you train?

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 for many years as an illustrator and designer on a different range of projects, from murals to restaurant menus to greetings cards, but my real passion and dream was always to illustrate books, or at least since I studied in Arte 10. There I developed a real love for books. What I would never have imagined is that I would also end up writing them!

2.   How do your picture books, like Flooded and Lost, start - with some words, or some doodles and images? Do you see yourself as a writer or illustrator first?

In general with pictures! Flooded was born from a one off lithography I did in 3 colours of animals walking on a tube platform and Lost was born by life drawing at the British Museum, the tube and cafes.

I don't consider myself a writer (I would feel like an impostor calling myself one), but I usually write at the same time I draw. Images bring the words and the words amend the illustrations. I often write little notes next to the characters I doodle, little sentences, like they are telling me what to write. But yes, definitely an illustrator first.

3.   We've been hearing a lot about your earlier picture book Flooded, which won the Klaus Flugge Prize and the UKLA picture book category - congratulations! What has been your stand-out moment in your picture book career so far?

Well, I would say that winning the prestigious Klaus Flugge award was a very big and proud moment (I cried…!). I can't believe how well received the book has been so far. It has had six awards in total and a few other nominations, plus it's been translated into 20 languages. That is more than I could ever have imagined! I just feel very proud and very grateful.

4.    Can you tell us about your new book, I Love Books; what happens, and why you wanted to explore the magic of reading through a picture book? Do you hope it will help inspire more children to enjoy reading?

When I had to pitch new ideas to my publisher for my third book I had a few floating ideas (very vague ideas!) in my head and a few images I liked. This book was born from a page I had in my portfolio of a girl reading in different positions (laying down, sitting, reading while walking the dog, while having a bath, etc).

We all liked this character so we thought of giving her a story. Who was this character and what was her story? I think we talked about it being a book about reading, about books…? I think my publisher joked that it could be titled "I hate books!" and I think that idea stuck in my head and I went from there.

I guess during the process I remembered how much I hated reading at school and how my sisters helped me to realise I didn't hate reading itself, but the books I was offered at school. So I thought it would be a great way to show the same to other children and I hope it inspires them to go and find their books.

5.    How did you decide to illustrate the 'magic' of books emerging as the story progresses in I Love Books? Was it a difficult concept to manage?

I think most of the decisions are organic as I am writing/ illustrating the story. Once I decided that the real world was dull and monochromatic and inside the story would be full of colour, the use of Pantones coming out to the 'real world' made sense.

I feel writing/ illustrating a story is almost like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I have a lot of concepts, ideas and images that need to be organised in order to make sense; once these are organised it all flows and then it is just a matter of creating the artwork.

6.    What will the observant reader notice through the pages? Do you enjoy bringing in these extra layers to your stories?

I am glad you asked this question! I've seen many reviews of the book online who mention her mum brings her to the library, when actually it is not her mum, but her sister. At the beginning of the book there is a clue.

If you pay attention to the imagination world, the girl imagines one of the witches like her teacher. Then there are other Easter eggs around, like my previous books in the classroom, or Bear from Lost in the last page.  And…here is a secret! In the end papers at the end, there is a nod to the next book I am writing, but you'll have to wait to find out about that one!

I am not sure I do this consciously but I like my books to have different layers.

7.    Is your main character - a girl who does not love reading - based on anyone you know? How did she develop and how do show her character, given how few words there are in the book?

Yes! Me, haha. I didn't like reading at all when I was a child and if I am honest I didn't like school in general! I guess it was easy … I just thought about my own experience!   I guess the combination of a few words and the images say everything I want to say.

8.    How did you create your images for this book - is this the same process as for your earlier picture books? What is your favourite media to work with? What are you working on currently?

This book was created in acrylic ink, acrylic gouache and colour pencils, then finalised all in photoshop by adding the Pantone colours. Basically a mix of Flooded and Lost!

I really enjoyed the ways I created my first three books, but I love experimenting with different media and traditional printing processes. I have an idea of how I want the next book to look, but I guess I will find out once I start working on it.

I am in the process of storyboarding / writing the next book, then I will experiment with a few images and see where this leads me. I've been off on my maternity leave for the last nine months, so I feel I need to remember how to draw!

9.    If you could bring a favourite children's story to life, like your character does, which book would you choose?

The Wizard of Oz! Or The Lord of the Flies (although this one might not be for little readers).

10.    Where and when do you do your best work? And what would your dream illustrator's studio look like?

I work from home. We have a room dedicated to work so…I guess that's the place!  We are planning to build a studio in the garden so I hope it will be a very nice space with loads of light and big enough where I can have a table to work and experiment (so, to be messy!) and a different desk to work with my computer when I have to scan images and put everything together; having some books, plants and…I hope I will be able to fit in a printing press so I can play with traditional printing processes like drypoint and monoprint.


 Mariajo Ilustrajo introduces her debut, Flooded, in 2022 (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

A rising star in picture books, author and illustrator Mariajo Ilustrajo's first picture book was inspired by a sketch she had drawn of animals in an underground station. The final book, about a city that succumbs to flooding, can be read as a story about teamwork and a story about climate change. Here, Mariajo Ilustrajo to tell us more about Flooded and shares part of the story with us.

Author's Titles