Book Review of Federico and the Magi's Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story by Beatriz Vidal

by DerdriuMarriner

Latin American children get Christmas season gifts twice. They link December 24 with presents. They receive more good-behavior gifts on January 6 in “Federico and the Magi’s Gift.”

Christmas stories appeal to children especially because they address the birth and childhood of Jesus of Nazareth (6 B.C.? – A.D. 29?). Children particularly appreciate the stories about Jesus’s birth warranting a visit less than two weeks later by:
• Balthazar of Saba, Persia, bringing myrrh for humanity;
• Casper of Tharsis, India, gifting frankincense for divinity;
• Melchior of Arabia, lavishing gold for regality.

The Nativity (“birth”) of December 24 and the Epiphany (“vision of God”) of January 6 assume special significance for Spanish-speaking children in:
• Caribbean, Central, North, South America;
• Europe.

They inspire communal, familial, and religious celebrations which include gift-giving. It is to the Three Wise Men that gift requests are directed in “Federico and the Magi’s Gift."

Spanish-speaking children are excited about the visit of the Three Wise Men and the gifts which they brought to Jesus' manger. ~

Adoración de los Reyes Magos (Adoration of the Magi): oil on panel by El Greco (1541 – April 7, 1614)
Museo Soumaya-Plaza Carso, Mexico City, south central Mexico
Museo Soumaya-Plaza Carso, Mexico City, south central Mexico


Year-round snow covers altitudes 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) above sea level in Latin America. Elsewhere it falls during the southern hemisphere’s winter months of:

  • June;
  • July;
  • August.

The Christmas holidays consequently get summer dates in:

  • December;
  • January;
  • February.

Latin America’s children therefore have no worries about inclement weather delaying or preventing gift-giving on December 24 and January 6. Their parents nevertheless must make sure that:

  • Gift requests are illustrated or written;
  • Shoes are left on windowsills;
  • Trees are trimmed with gold and silver ornaments and with real candles (velas).

All household members additionally need to be asleep or the Three Wise Men accompanied by angels and riding camels will not stop in Federico and the Magi’s Gift.


"Federico and the Magi's Gift" reminds children to be fast asleep or risk being bypassed by the Three Wise Men on camelback and a retinue of angels:

Although camels (Camelus) are Old World natives, thanks to Magi mode of transportation, children in the New World are familiar with the humped ungulates.
Guelta d'Archei, Ennedi, northeastern Chad
Guelta d'Archei, Ennedi, northeastern Chad


The evening of January 5th, Mariana and Pablo dance in the yard while other village children enjoy hearing firecrackers and lofting globos (balloons).  They find hay and water for the Magi’s camels. Four-year-old Federico gets his drawing of a caballito (little toy horse) to leave next to his zapatos (shoes) on the windowsill. Mariana and Pablo have no trouble falling asleep. Federico is worried about misbehaving and receiving nothing. He leaves to enjoy:

  • Crickets humming and night birds rustling among jasmine and roses;
  • Micifus the cat chasing luciérnagas (fireflies).

Among the constellations he observes:

  • Angels;
  • Camels;
  • Magi with lots of toys (including his toy horse).

Federico runs back inside to bed and falls asleep, like everyone else.


In "Federico and the Magi's Gift," Federico looks at the night sky and sees angels, camels, and magi with toys as constellations:

Celestial Snow Angel (catalogued as Sharpless 2-106 or Sh2-106) in constellation Cygnus
Star-Forming Region S106
Star-Forming Region S106



Beatriz Vidal calls Buenos Aires, Argentina home even though frequent New York City and Paris sojourns reflect artistic connections with:

  • Bon Appétit;
  • Gourmet;
  • The New York Times;
  • The New Yorker;
  • PBS;
  • Woman’s Day.

She draws upon training by:

  • Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities, Cordoba University, Argentina;
  • Ilonka Karasz (1891 – 1981) in New York.

Her illustrations for other Hispanic culture-related, Spanish language-learning books include:

  • Blancaflor (“Snow White”);
  • A Gift of Gracias;
  • The Legend of El Dorado;
  • A Library for Juana.

Federico and the Magi’s Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story represents Beatriz’s collaboration with:

  • Barbara Ensrud, as editor;
  • Alfred A. Knopf, as publisher.

The “must-own” book welcomes:

  • Ages 6 – 9 and upward;
  • Grades 1 – 3 and onward.


Federico and the Magi's Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story by Beatriz Vidal

The Eve of the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, means the Three Wise Men, or Magi, will ride through the night sky to deliver gifts to children. Four-year-old Federico has misbehaved, and now he is afraid the Magi won’t leave him any presents.
Christmas stories



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


The New Yorker Cover - February 17, 1962: Tropical Cruise Port by Ilonka Karasz ~ Available via AllPosters

Beatriz Vidal, author-illustrator of "Federico and the Magi's Gift," derives inspiration from one of her teachers, Ilonka Karasz.
The New Yorker Cover - February 17, 1962

Sources Consulted


“Beatriz Vidal Biography.” Beatriz Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

Callahan, Ashley. 2003. Enchanting Modern: Ilonka Karasz. Athens, GA: (University of) Georgia Museum of Art.

“Federico and the Magi’s Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story by Beatriz Vidal.” Starwalk Great Neck, NY: StarWalk Kids Media, Seymour Science LLC. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

“Ilonka Karasz.” All Art > Artists > Artists by Name > K. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

“Ilonka Karasz.” Inc.: Gallery > Short > Artists. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

“Ilonka Karasz Biography.” The Annex Galleries: Artists > Biographies. Santa Rosa, California. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

“The Ilonka Karasz New Yorker Covers.” Condé Nast Magazines > The New Yorker > New Yorker Covers > New Yorker Covers Artists. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

“Lamelle (designed ca. 1934 by Ilonka Karasz).” The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Collection > The Collection Online > Search the Collection. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

Maxwell, William. 1946. The Heavenly Tenants. Pictures by Ilonka Karasz. New York, NY; and London, England: Harper & Brothers.

McGinley, Phyllis. 1958. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Decorations by Ilonka Karasz. New York, NY: Viking Press.  

“Mr. Nyland.” Nyland Presidio Gurdjieff Group, Tucson > Pages > More about Nyland. Tucson, Arizona. Retrieved December 10, 2014.

  • Available at:

Wood, Clement. 1929. The Outline of Man’s Knowledge: The Story of History, Science, Literature, Art, Religion, Philosophy. Decorations by Louis Bromberg. Maps by Ilonka Karasz. New York, NY: Lewis Copeland Company.

Vidal, Beatriz. 2004. Federico and the Magi's Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf Borzoi Book.


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

North and South America: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Possibly long before ever seeing their first camels, New World children are familiar with camels, Old World natives, from beloved stories of Jesus' birth and his visitation by the Three Wise Men.
North and South America
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Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 12/10/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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