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Federico and the Magi's Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story    by Beatriz Vidal order for
Federico and the Magi's Gift
by Beatriz Vidal
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Beatriz Vidal's heartwarming Federico and the Magi's Gift teaches the Christmas traditions of Latin America. The temperature in the mountain village is warm as children and adults release 'globos' (balloons) into the sky, accompanied by the crackle of fireworks marking the end of the Christmas season. Four-year old Federico has been mischievous. Now he worries that the Three Wise Men (Magi) will not leave the gift he has asked for - a 'caballito' (toy horse).

Epiphany Eve is a magical time when the Magi ride camels across the sky to deliver gifts, which are placed in 'zapatos' (shoes) left on the windowsill at bedtime. Unable to sleep, Federico wanders out to the garden, passing the holiday tree decorated with real candles. In the soft grass carpet of the meadow, Federico patiently sits in wonder watching the night sky, in awe of the millions of stars outlining animals, birds, and heroes. He begins to count - 'Uno, dos, tres ...' - as he spots Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar, riding camels and escorted by angels.

Beatriz Vidal has painted marvelous, expressive illustrations in vivid watercolors, using 'a magnifying glass and small brushes and gouache' (painting with opaque colors ground in water and mixed with a preparation of gum). She based the story on her own childhood experiences in Argentina, where the holiday begins on Christmas Eve and ends January 6th with the Epiphany. Especially spectacular are illustrations featuring Federico in the meadow looking up at the arrangement of minute stars.

This is Vidal's debut as author and illustrator of a picture book, which includes a short glossary of words in the village's language. Without hesitation, I recommend Federico and the Magi's Gift for a child's bookshelf collection to read all year long.

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