Book Review: Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

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Reviewed by Sonia Alejandra Rodríguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos 

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: With his red hoodie on and his bicycle basket full of food, Federico is ready to visit Abuelo. But on the way, he meets a hungry wolf. And now his grandfather bears a striking resemblance to el lobo. Fortunately, Federico is quick and clever—and just happens to be carrying a spicy surprise! Federico drives the wolf away, and he and Abuelo celebrate with a special salsa. Recipe included.

OUR TWO CENTS: Rebecca J. Gomez’s Federico and the Wolf  is an illustrated book about a young boy named Federico who is sent to the market to pick up ingredients to make pico de gallo with his abuelo. As he travels through a forest-like park, he meets a hungry lobo who wants his food. When Federico says no the lobo comes up with a plan and meets Federico at his abuelo’s shop. The lobo dresses up as Federico’s abuelo and tries to eat him. Using chiles and peppers. Federico is able to ward off the lobo. 

With Federico and the Wolf  Gomez and Chavarri present a retelling of the classic tale, The Little Red Riding Hood. The differences from the classic tale and Gomez’s is that the protagonist is a Mexican-American boy in a modern setting. In this version, Federico is sent to the marketplace to find ingredients such as jalapeños, onions, garlic, limes, and fresh herbs with which to make Pico de Gallo. Instead of the classic red cape, Federico wears a sleeveless red hoodie and his basket is attached to the front of  his bike, which he uses to get to the market and to Abuelo’s shop through a park with a forest feel. Instead of chopping down the wolf with an axe, Federico uses his peppers and chiles to lure the lobo away and rescue his abuelo. There are a few Spanish words sprinkled throughout the story that are simple enough to translate with context clues from the narrative and from the illustrations. However, the book does include a glossary of Spanish words and as an added bonus, a recipe for Pico de Gallo. The differences in this retelling make Federico and the Wolf  a classic in and of itself. 

 Elisa Chavarri’s illustrations include colorful and bold images. One of the most vibrant scenes is the marketplace. There are many details any observant reader can point out, such as guitars, flores, the jars of red and green goods, and other people walking around with their bags. Federico’s bag has a luchador face on it. The market has fruit stands and a churro vendor. What makes the scene more colorful is the papel picado hanging above the market. The illustrations of the lobo are excellently done and are humorous, such as when he dresses up as abuelo and eats the chiles. Chavarri’s detail for facial expressions on the main characters adds another layer of complexity to the story.  From the cover, the wolf looks mischievous and cunning. Federico, on the other hand, has a sly smile that makes him look confident and like he can certainly outwit the lobo. When brave Federico shoves an habanero in the wolf’s mouth, Federico’s hand looks tiny in comparison to the conniving wolf’s enormous teeth. And in the next scene, Federico stands with hands on hips, like a superhero, while the wolf’s wild eyes are red and full of tears, tongue sticking out showing readers just how spicy a habanero can be. Chavarri’s illustrations complement the story perfectly. 

Additionally, Gomez’s use of rhyme makes the story even more entertaining for young readers. Gomez follows an ABCB rhythm which gives the story the classic fairy tale, sing song, feel. The rhyme scheme creates an additional layer of fun for readers. For example, the story opens with:

  Once upon a modern time

a boy named Federico

left to buy ingredients 

to make the perfect pico. 

In this quatrain, or set of four lines, the last word of the second line rhymes with the last word of the fourth line. It might be fun to let younger readers find the rhyme words as they read. For the most part, the entire story is told in the ABCB rhyme pattern, which readers will definitely catch as they follow Federico through the story. 

We find Gomez and Chavarri’s Federico and the Wolf  significantly powerful because it represents a young, brown, Mexican-American boy standing up to the “big, bad wolf” threatening his existence. Just like in the story about Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf in this version can be read as a representation of many social threats in the child’s life. Federico is not afraid, although he is surprised to see the wolf in his abuelo’s clothes, because unknowingly his journey prepared him for this moment of confrontation. Federico uses the ingredients for Pico de Gallo to attack and disempower the wolf. By using these ingredients, Federico depends on his family knowledge and on his heritage to survive and thrive. Readers, young and old, will find themselves cheering for Federico.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca J. Gomez has been writing stories and poems for kids since she was five years old. She also loves to hike, draw, and play games with her husband and their three children. She has co-authored four picture books with Corey Rosen Schwartz. Federico and the Wolf is her first solo picture book.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, 6yr old Lucia, and 3yr old Marcel. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 5: Alyssa Bermudez, Elisa Chavarri and Zara González Hoang

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fifth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out soon. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Alyssa Bermudez

Photo by Mark Cowles

Photo by Mark Cowles

Alyssa Bermudez is a New Yorker who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and now lives and works in Tasmania. She illustrated Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, which was published in 2017 by Pow! Kids Books.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A:  I have always wanted to be someone who makes things. Whether it was designing shoes or learning to sew, I have always felt most like my true self when I’m making something. Growing up in New York, I had access to incredible artistic resources, and being exposed to that from a young age also made it feel totally natural. I don’t actually remember a time that I didn’t want to become an artist.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A:  Watercolor and Photoshop are my current absolute favorites. Watercolor has a mind of its own and sometimes that spontaneity shows up on the page. I love the confidence of its presence and combining it with digital techniques where I can control it afterwards.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: Picture books are important because it allows children to visualize and understand their own stories as they grow up. They can see their lives reflected in this way. The world is an exciting and colorful place full of adventure, and picture books highlight this to kids and adults.

Lucia the Luchadora Cover

Elisa Chavarri

Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, baby girl, cat, and dog. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  Books she has illustrated include Rainbow Weaver/Tejadora del arco iris from Lee & Low Books, Maybe Mother Goose and Fairly Fairy Tales from Aladdin Books and various titles for American Girl.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist? 

A: For me, it was my love of the old classic Disney movies and cartoons, once I discovered that people actually created these characters and worlds by doing countless drawings and concept art, I was hooked. In addition I’ve liked drawing and coloring as long as I can remember.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: This is a tough one for me because I like different mediums for different reasons. My top favorites are pencil/paper, acrylics, watercolors, and digital. The one I use the most is digital, and it’s the one I learned last, but for completing work on time and revisions, it is the most versatile and efficient medium. To play around with on my own time and for personal projects I really enjoy acrylics and watercolors for their ease of use. I’ve been using these and oil paints since I was a kid thanks to my mom encouraging my artistic leanings and putting me in various classes. Digital painting I began learning in college, but mostly am self-taught.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: They introduce children to stories/reading and the arts which are among the most life enriching things in the world!

RAINBOW_WEAVER_fnl_JKT.jpg  maybe-mother-goose-9781481440363_hr.jpg  5246204269_e722bedb32_b.jpg

 

Zara González Hoang

Zara Gonzalez HoangZara González Hoang is an illustrator originally from Minneapolis, now living near Washington, D.C. She studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will illustrate the upcoming picture book Thread of Love by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal for the Simon and Schuster imprint Beach Lane.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: I was lucky enough to be born into a family of teachers, so paper and art supplies were always around. I think at the heart of it all was the feeling of connection I got as a child drawing with my dad. I remember him lying on the floor with me, a sketchbook between us, drawing horses (my favorite) and boats (his favorite). My dad had a creative soul that wasn’t often expressed, so to be able to share a piece of it was always something special.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I work primarily digitally. I’ve always been drawn to computers (I was actually a computer science major in college for a little while), so I think the idea of merging art and technology appeals to me on different levels. I like working digitally because it’s so easy to change things if you’re not satisfied. I have a tendency to change my mind a lot so being able to change colors with ease or move elements around is really appealing. I draw so much digitally that when I’m drawing traditionally and make a mistake my mind tells me I need to hit the undo button (even though that is obviously not possible!)

Also, being a mom of young son, it’s a lot easier to turn on my tablet and get some “painting” done without having to worry about my paint drying on my brushes or making a giant mess that I don’t have time to clean up when my guy needs me. There are so many great brushes being created for Photoshop these days (Kyle’s Brushes are my favorite) that emulate different traditional media that it’s become a lot harder to tell the difference if you know what you are doing.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: They help children make sense of the world around them. There is a quote that I read recently that really resonates with me and gets to the heart of why I think picture books are important so I will just put that here because I don’t think I can say it any better than Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirror in books.”

I got into picture books because as a mixed-race Latina Jew married to a Vietnamese refugee with a Vietnamese/Puerto Rican/Jewish Buddhist child I want to help create mirrors for children who don’t have them. There are so many stories that are not represented, I feel like part of my purpose is to help bring them to life.