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.