Secrets in the Hills

Published in 2006; author Kathleen Ernst; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


While out with Tia Magdalena collecting plants to use for medicine in another town when she sees some letters and symbols scratched in the rocks. She wonders if it's a mark left by a traveler, or a priest (there's a cross), and even entertains the notion that maybe it indicates buried treasure. When she returns home, her sisters are busy in the kitchen. She joins them, noticing that Francisca is trying to contain her annoyance with what she views as constant chores. She'd rather be married to a rich man, like the handsome Ramon Torres she danced with at a party in Santa Fe recently. Josefina wishes she had the means to get Francisca a beautiful gift, like a fancy scarf, to help her get Ramon's attention.

Before she can think of a way to help Francesca's mood, two men come to her house. One, Sr. Zamora, has a badly injured leg, which has become infected. Josefina has been studying medicine under Tia Magdalena's tutelage, and knows enough to at least begin treating him. When she's straightening his belongings, a map falls out. A treasure map...with symbols and landmarks like the ones she saw earlier. When Sr. Zamora begins to recover, and tells Josefina that the treasure map belonged to his father. Apparently, his ancestors made it decades ago. He set out to find the treasure, but doesn't understand everything on the map. He hopes Josefina can help him decipher it. The other man is full of intrigue himself. Mr. Rexfod an American from Missouri who hopes to enter into a business contract with Josefina's father, selling saddles. He knows Josefina's grandparents, and they've sent a letter of recommendation along with him.

Because this is a mystery book, there are other things happening at the same time: Josefina and other children have been hearing ghostly wailing at night, and she's taking on the role of a healer while Tia Magdalena is away. The latter part includes helping a bitter old widow woman who insists on being unhappy. Josefina doesn't enjoy spending time around her, but knows that she has a responsibility to help take care of her. Josefina worries that the ghostly voice is a ill omen, meaning that the people she's caring for will suffer for her lack of knowledge (despite her desire to be a healer, she still has a lot to learn from Tia Magdalena). And then her sister Francisca is coming down with a variety of ailments--headache, stomach pains, listlessness--and insists that Josefina is too young and inexperienced to be a healer.

But Josefina's efforts as a healer are fruitful for others: not only has Sr. Zamora recovered, so has the widow woman. And she's also appreciated the companionship Josefina gave her, and shares some of her late family's heirlooms to her. Among them is half of the map Sr. Zamora has! With the now complete map and some information about prior landmarks washed away by weather, Josefina and Sr. Zamora find the treasure. It's the cross of the church, buried to save it from being stolen, since it's inlaid with gold. While it's not the treasure they imagined, they're very happy to be able to restore it to the church.

The other secrets begin to be revealed as well. Francisca is simply sick with anxiety, because the American Mr. Rexford wants to court her, and while she also likes him, she's worried about the scandal it might cause. When he does ask her father's permission, he's taken aback, but upon hearing that Mr. Rexford wants to stay in the area, he agrees to let them see each other at least a little bit. The wailing turns out to be from a Navajo woman who had been captured and sold as a slave when she was a child, and now tries to hide her roots. Teresita, the Montoyas' servant, is also Navajo born and was captured, and offers the woman comfort.

So, having successfully helped people's physical and emotional woes, Josefina feels more secure in her desire to be a healer. When Tia Magdalena returns, Josefina is eager to learn more about the craft.

Looking Back

Rumors of hidden treasure, gold especially, were common among the Spanish conquistadors during Josefina's time. There was some basis in fact: many native families buried their valuables when forced to flee from invaders. Natives who did not flee risked being sold into slavery as servants for wealthy families, or being killed if things got violent. But not all interactions with non-natives went that way; some businesses traded back and forth with families in the area that would become New Mexico. Despite the rocky start natives had with non-natives, the violence eventually wound down.


This book is dedicated to "Marsha, forever in our hearts." Special thanks are given to Sandra Jaramillo, Felipe Mirabal, and the staff and volunteers of El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living Museum for "their insights and support."

Josefina has a bit of trouble avoiding the spines on a prickly pear cactus when scraping out the inside to use for medicinal purposes. The text describes "tiny, needle-like barbs." Prickly pear cacti don't have closely-packed spines; they're pretty easy to avoid. A barrel cactus would be better, but I don't know if it has the same medicinal properties (probably not).

Josefina and Teresita talk about fevers, implying that if someone doesn't have a fever the illness isn't so serious. I agree that for a lot of cases that makes sense. However, my brothers and I rarely run fevers when we're sick, and so far at least my older daughter is the same way. But the four of us also rarely get sick. (Although I did start this blog on the first sick day I ever took--the first of about half a dozen.)


Changes for Josefina

Published in 1998; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles and Susan McAliley


Another Christmas season is wrapping up. Josefina and her sisters prepare for a large community dance on the last day, January sixth, the feast of the Epiphany. The next day, they reflect on how the work is hard, but very worth it, and Tia Dolores has taught them how to enjoy doing things for their family and friends and to do them efficiently. In fact, they've learned so much from Tia Dolores that she announces it's time for her to leave and stay with her parents. The girls don't need her anymore (although they try making a lot of mistakes to prove her wrong, but she doesn't fall for it), and their father should find another woman to love as he loved their mother. She'd just be in the way. Josefina and her sisters think their father has found another woman to love: Tia Dolores. And they're pretty sure she loves him too, but that neither realizes it. (In Josefina's time and culture, marrying a late sibling's widow or widower wasn't uncommon; it was practical: the families knew each other and it kept property divisions simple.)

The girls want to help their father and Tia Dolores see the light, but they don't know how to. It wouldn't be proper for them to discuss it outright, especially if their suspicions about the adults' feelings for each other are wrong. But their grandparents will be visiting soon--to take Tia Dolores home with them--and Tia Magdalena will surely come to see her brother's in-laws too. Maybe she can help. Josefina is anxious to ask her godmother about the situation, but when she hears her grandfather plans to join the American trader Patrick O'Toole on a journey to Missouri and he's counting on Tia Dolores to care for Josefina's grandmother, she gives up hope. It would be selfish to expect Tia Dolores to abandon her parents. Tia Magdalena is still able to pry the truth out of Josefina, but agrees that it's not the sort of thing any curandera can heal with her medicines. She instead gives Josefina a heart-shaped religious medal and encourages Josefina to pray, and tells her she will pray too.

The next day Josefina finds herself inspired: what if Ana and her family move to Santa Fe? Ana agrees that it would be a good way for her family to set out its own a bit, and her husband could help while their grandfather's away. It would also give her sons the opportunity for a good education from the priests in Santa Fe. Furthermore, Tia Dolores could then stay on the rancho. The sisters present their idea to their father, who discusses it with their grandparents and Tia Dolores. It goes half well: they all agree that Ana and her father should move to Santa Fe, but Tia Dolores still wants to leave! Discouraged, Josefina throws the heart-shaped medal out in the sleet.

Her father finds it the next day, and Josefina explains that she threw it away because of her sadness. He correctly guesses what she and her sisters hoped would happen, but says that while he does indeed love Tia Dolores, she doesn't love him back. Josefina boldly corrects him, but he doesn't seem convinced. She refuses his attempt to return the heart, and leaves, her own heart still heavy. Later that day, she sorrowfully accompanies her grandparents to Tia Magdalena's, to fetch Tia Dolores so they can bring her back to Santa Fe.

Once there, her grandfather produces a letter for Tia Dolores. As she opens it, the heart falls out. Josefina is suddenly elated: her father must have written a letter proposing marriage! Tia Dolores seems shocked, but calmly tells her parents that Josefina's father has asked to marry her, and that they can tell him she accepts. Josefina could hardly be happier!

Looking Back

The historical section is about how the Southwest came to be part of the United States. As trade opened up with what was then northern Mexico, American influence seeped into the culture. The new country was also conflicted within itself over whether to be one large nation or several smaller ones. Texas was a particular sore spot, claimed by Mexico, the United States, and also itself as its own independent nation. Dispute over where the United States ended and Texas or Mexico began grew into a larger scale war that saw the United States laying claim to what would become parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California (at one point the US offered to pay for the land but Mexico refused, further increasing hostilities). Even after claiming the Southwest as its own territory in 1848 and granting all the non-Native American residents citizenship, New Mexico wasn't granted statehood. Because of its Spanish and Native American influences, New Mexico and Arizona were viewed as too foreign to be states (by contrast, California gained statehood in 1850, Nevada in 1864, Colorado in 1876, and Utah in 1896). It wasn't until 1912 that they were formally inducted as the forty-seventh and forty-eighth states. Alaska and Hawaii followed in 1959.


This book is dedicated to "Rosalinda Barrera, Juan Garcia, Sandra Jaramillo, Skip Keith Miller, Felipe Mirabel, Tey Diano Rebolledo, Orlando Romera, and Marc Simmons, with thanks."

Today, the US has fourteen territories: American Samoa, Baker Island, Guam, Howland Island (uninhabited), Jarvis Island (uninhabited), Johnston Atoll (uninhabited), Kingman Reef (uninhabited), Midway Islands (no permanent residents), Navassa Island (uninhabited), Northern Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll (uninhabited), Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and the Wake Islands. About four million US citizens live in these territories.


Josefina Saves the Day

Published in 1998; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles and Susan McAliley


While exploring the hills above her grandparents' rancho, Josefina happens upon a stranger, Patrick O'Toole, a trader from Missouri. She's shy, but when he asks for her grandfather, she leads him to the home and introduces him. The man has lunch with her family, and then discusses business, interested in the mules Josefina's father has brought to Santa Fe to trade. Josefina is pleased to have helped the trading, but her grandmother worries about whether the man can be trusted. Josefina thinks to herself that he seems friendly enough, and hopes nothing bad will come of her meeting him.

The next day, the wagon train that Patrick was scouting for arrives in Santa Fe. The streets are bustling with excitement as people browse the marketplace. Tia Dolores announces to Josefina, Clara, and Francisca that they may each pick one of the blankets they helped weave and trade it for anything they want (Ana is home with her family; Tia Dolores will trade her blanket for boots for Juan and Antonio). Josefina spies a toy farm that she likes, but Clara insists it's not practical enough. Her father suggests she look a little more, but if after that she still wants it the next day, there's no reason she can't pick the toy. He also tells her that he's decided to trade the mules with Patrick, who can get him actual money for the animals, which will make it easier for him to get the sheep the family still needs (the previous ninety isn't enough).

That evening, Patrick joins Josefina's family for dinner. He gives Josefina a piece of sheet music with a song written in English. She mentions that her father used to play violin like Patrick, but that he gave his instrument away when Josefina's mother died. After the meal is over, everyone socializes, sharing stories and playing music. Suddenly Patrick offers his violin to Josefina's father, saying it's his turn to play. To Josefina's surprise, her father accepts. She gives him the sheet music Patrick gave her, and he plays while Patrick sings the song. Watching her father enjoy something he used to, Josefina decides she doesn't want the toy anymore. She wants to trade her blanket for Patrick's violin. But she'll need to get her sisters on board with the idea; the violin is easily worth three blankets. Francisca is easy to convince, but Clara takes some cajoling. Patrick also agrees, and takes the blankets happily, arranging to meet the girls later with the violin. (Really, Clara? You wouldn't insist he bring the violin first?) But when the girls go to meet him, he doesn't show. Josefina asks around, and learns that he's left to continue scouting for the wagon train. She and her sisters are heartbroken: if he's cheated them, surely he's also cheated their father.

The girls tell their father what happened, and he sadly decides they were foolish to trust Patrick. He'll have to go to town in the morning to get his mules back, which will ruin Patrick's reputation, but if he's a cheat then he deserves that. But in the night, Josefina sees a piece of paper weighted down with a chunk of turquoise she knows Patrick had. It's a drawing from him, instructing Josefina to meet him at the church he got it from. Maybe he's not dishonest after all. She hurries to the church with Francisca (Clara insists that it's too dangerous with all the rowdy traders who are probably drunk, but agrees not to tell on them). Dodging some shady characters, Josefina and Francisca make it to the church, and find the violin in the bell tower. With it are the mirror Francisca had considering trading for, the knitting needles Clara wanted, and the toy farm Josefina saw (Patrick had been at the marketplace with them). They hurry back to their grandparents' just as their father is getting ready to reclaim his mules. When he sees the items, he dismounts from his horse, now trusting that Patrick will send the rest of the money he's owed. He also scolds the girls for going out on such a dangerous errand, but is happy that he hasn't been swindled. He's also very touched that they got the violin for him.

That night, Josefina hears her father playing the violin. She see Tia Dolores watching and listening too.

Looking Back

In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain. This allowed new opportunities for trade with the United States and Canada. Since farmland in the desert needed constant care, it was rare for people travel except to trade, and the new business meant the trips were especially worthwhile. Since people might only travel once or twice a year, they took advantage of the rare treat, being careful to accomplish all the necessary business and trying to squeeze in visits with family or friends as well.


This book is dedicated to "Kathy Borkoski, Val Hodgson, Peg Ross, Jane Varda, and Judy Woodburn, with thanks."

Josefina's mother said that the sky is such a beautiful blue because it's the bottom of Heaven. I like that sentiment.

I don't get it. If Patrick could leave the things in the church and leave a note for Josefina at the rancho, why couldn't he just give the items to her at her grandparents' rancho?


Josefina's Song

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


Josefina and her father are about to embark on a trip to the area where the family's flock of sheep grazes in the hot summer. Josefina's father has heard that the shepherd, Santiago, is ill, and wants to check on him. Josefina's sisters Francisca and Clara are nervous, because they want to go to Santa Fe with their father when travels to do some trading, and how well Josefina does on the trip will determine whether they can go. They urge her to stay quiet and obedient.

At first following her sisters' request is easy. The trip is so exciting that Josefina is focused on taking everything in. When they reach the summer grazing area, they see that Santiago is no longer ill, but that his illness has left him blind. His grandson, Angelito, has been watching the sheep. Josefina goes to talk to Angelito while her father talks to Santiago. Angelito assures Josefina with his words and actions that the pair can still be charge of the sheep. Angelito keeps a keen eye on the sheep and the dogs obey him, while Santiago prepares food, keeps house, and tends to sick sheep. They're quite happy with their life, and worried that they'll be forced to quit because of Santiago's blindness. But Josefina's father doesn't think someone as young as Angelito and a blind man can effectively watch the sheep, and tells them they can come live on the rancho but that he will hire a new shepherd. Knowing how much tending the flock means to Santiago and Angelito, Josefina can't hold her tongue, and implores her father to reconsider, even though she knows he'll be angry at her for not keeping her place. Sure enough, he's embarrassed at her outburst and orders to go stay by the horses while he finishes his conversation with Santiago. He soon joins her, and they ride off in awkward silence.

On the way home, a sudden storm spooks the horses, and Josefina's father is thrown from his. His leg is badly injured. Josefina gets him on her horse (his runs off home) and they return to Santiago and Angelito's camp. There, Santiago can tell by touch that the leg is only badly sprained, not broken, although it's still causing quite a bit of pain. To help Josefina's father sleep, Santiago plays his flute while Josefina sings every song she knows and even makes some up. By morning, Josefina's father has seen first-hand that Santiago and Angelito can easily care for the sheep, and agrees to let them stay on. They happily accept his offer. As Josefina and her father head home--under clear skies--he commends her on her bravery and thanks her for staying up all night singing to him. He particularly liked the song she made up about their adventure in the mountains...maybe she'll sing it to her sisters on the way to Santa Fe.

Looking Back

Sheep were vitally important to settlers in the Southwest. They provided milk, meat, and wool that could be made into clothing, towels, and bedding (although wool's not so great for towels; cotton's better). The head of a rancho would often have a flock of sheep numbering in the hundreds. Because he would have other duties to attend to, he would hire shepherds. The shepherds moved the sheep to fresh grazing areas, up to the cooler mountains in the heat of the summer, shear them in the spring when their fleeces were thick, train herding dogs, watch for predators, and keep sheep safe from thieves.

Shepherds in Josefina's time used slingshots to protect the sheep.
Herding dogs slept on sheepskins, which seems a little strange but also very practical.


Happy Birthday, Josefina!

Published in 1998; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles and Susan McAliley


Spring has arrived, and with it, new life. The flowers Josefina's mother planted that the goat got into are sprouting again, and that mean old goat herself is pregnant. When the baby comes, it's a difficult delivery, and the goat dies. Despite her animosity toward the goat, Josefina is tender with her in her last moments--she never wanted the animal to suffer, just to behave. The new kid is weak, too weak to suckle from any other nanny goats. Josefina asks her father if she can care for the kid. At first he's reluctant. The kid doesn't have a good chance of surviving, no matter how much care Josefina gives it, and he doesn't want Josefina to grow to love the animal just to lose it, the way she loved her mother and lost her. But Tia Dolores is able to convince him that it would be good for Josefina to try, and Josefina tells her father they should care for all creatures. It's hard work, but Josefina is able to get the kid to drink milk expressed from other goats, and it grows strong. Soon it's following her around like a shadow, and her sisters name the little goat Sombrita, or "little shadow" (the "a" ending meaning it's a female goat).

Josefina does such a good job with Sombrita that Tia Magdalena, her godmother and paternal aunt, is impressed. Since she's the curandera (healer), her praise is very meaningful. Tia Magdalena is also impressed that Josefina can readily find healing plants. She invites Josefina over to her house to help her with some spring cleaning, and notes that Josefina can identify most of the plants in her stores, and knows some of the uses for them. Josefina ponders this, and her desire to help people, and the fact that her mother chose Tia Magdalena as her godmother. Perhaps she can study under her godmother and learn to be a curandera too. Her godmother says that one doesn't become a curandera but rather is one, and says time will tell if Josefina has the gift for it. Satisfied for now, Josefina sets about dusting the jars of plants. She carefully cleans a blue and white apothecary jar that's been handed down from curandera to curandera...and drops it, shattering it. Ashamed and afraid, she runs without telling Tia Magdalena. Of course, she soon discovers the shards and figures out what happened when Josefina's father comes to walk Josefina home. Tia Dolores talks with Josefina and tells her she needs to be courageous, to ask for forgiveness and not give up on her dream of being a curandera. When she apologizes to Tia Madalena, her godmother agrees that Josefina may yet be a curandera, even if the jar is beyond repair.

While Josefina still feels guilty about breaking the jar, she knows that Tia Magdalena understands it was a mistake. Besides, she doesn't have much time to worry: she's going with her father to visit his friend Esteban, a Pueblo man, to trade sixty blankets Josefina and her family wove. It's enough for ninety sheep! Josefina will get to play with Esteban's granddaughter, Mariana. Josefina is excited to show Mariana her doll Niña and Sombrita. After the men have a leisurely lunch and discuss the trade, the girls run off to play with their dolls and the goat. But a rattlesnake ruins the day. It threatens to attack Sombrita, and when Mariana throws a rock at it to kill it, the snake strikes out and bites her. Josefina throws another rock, also not killing the snake but at least driving it away. Mariana's arm is already swelling, and the venom is making her too weak to get back to her home. Josefina remembers something her godmother gave her from her medicine stores: a root she can crush to draw out the venom. Grabbing some more rocks and using her spit, she makes a paste to press into Mariana's wound. At first it doesn't seem to be working, but finally her friend can breathe easier and some of her strength returns. Together, the girls and the goat walk slowly back to Mariana's, where their fathers meet them, and Mariana tells them how Josefina saved her life. When Josefina and her father return home, she sleeps very soundly.

The next morning she's awakened by her family singing a song to celebrate her birthday. They have a small celebration with delicious foods. Mariana is well enough to come visit, with one of the last melons from the previous year's harvest. Josefina's father gives the dried out rattle of a snake that he killed after it bit him (and Tia Magdalena applied the same paste Josefina made), saying he kept it to remind him of something he was proud of (killing the snake and defending the sheep he was watching) so now he's giving to Josefina, because he's proud of how she saved her friend. Tia Magdalena, like everyone else, is impressed with the story. To Josefina's delight, her godmother tells her the event must mean she's a curandera.

Looking Back

Babies born in Josefina's time and culture were often named for religious figures like saints. Josefina was named for St. Joseph, as she was born on his feast day (March 19). She would have been formally named at her baptism, performed when she was a newborn. As is the case today, she would get godparents at her baptism, people selected by her parents to help guide her spiritual growth. Children named for saints sometimes celebrated on the feast days of their saints instead of on their birthdays, and would pass out small gifts like homemade candies or treats to others. When Josefina was about twelve or thirteen, she would receive her first Holy Communion (usually done today around the age of eight or nine in the Catholic church) and also the sacrament of Confirmation (varies today, usually either done with First Communion or around age seventeen) and be considered an adult. By fifteen, she could marry. Women who didn't marry most often stayed with family, as Tia Dolores did, first living with her aunt then with her sister's family.


This book is dedicated to "Peggy Jackson, with thanks."

Josefina's birthday, March 19, is the day that I found out I was pregnant with my first child (in 2010). I thought it was especially fitting that I discovered it on the feast day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of families: it was the day we stopped being a couple and became a family.

My dad rescued a stray puppy shortly after he and my mom married. He found her shivering in the rain under a street light and brought her back to the house she was in front of. A little bit later, the young boy he'd handed the puppy to was at my parents' house, explaining that he'd brought the puppy home after getting it from in front of a grocery store but his dad wouldn't let him keep it. When Mom went to the door to see who it was, she saw Dad holding something as he closed the door and turned around. He showed her the puppy and said, "Well, I guess we have a dog." I think she always knew that my dad saved her, because she followed him everywhere, like Josefina's goat. And because of that and because she was black, Dad named her Shadow.

Like Addy's books, Josefina's main six were published in two different years.

At the end of the book, Josefina talks with her father about second chances--how he survived the rattlesnake bite years ago, how her mother's flowers grew back, how Sombrita has thrived, how Josefina can still learn from Tia Magdalena despite breaking the jar--and that Tia Dolores taught her it's important to take advantage of second chances. He seems to take that to heart, especially interested that Tia Dolores was the one who said it. It's some foreshadowing for Changes for Josefina.


Josefina's Surprise

Published in 1997; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles and Susan McAliley


It's the second Christmas since Josefina's mother died. Last year, Christmas came so soon after her death that no one felt like celebrating. She wonders if this year will be the same, but Tia Dolores reassures her that it's okay to be happy. Her mother would want Josefina and her family to enjoy Christmas. Josefina's sisters remind her about Niña, the doll that was given to each sister the Christmas she was eight, dressed in a new gown sewn by their mother. Because they were in mourning, Josefina never got the doll, even with an old dress. Francisca excitedly reminds Clara that Josefina can have Niña this year, but Clara is evasive when asked where the doll is. Has she lost it? Josefina, wanting to share in the tradition that her sisters shared with her mother, hopes not.

The whole village is getting ready for Christmas. Parts are being assigned for Las Posadas, the annual Christmas play. Tia Dolores suggests that Josefina might want to play the part of Mary, but Josefina says she's not ready yet: the songs she would have to sing remind her of her mother, and she doesn't want to cry in front of everyone. As the preparations for Christmas ramp up, Josefina finds herself surrounded by people fondly remembering her mother: the special gifts she would give their families, the talent she had for decorating the church, her sweet and generous nature, the beautiful altar cloth she embroidered for Christmas mass. It's comforting for Josefina to know that her mother still has an impact in people's lives. She's looking forward to getting the altar cloth ready, and so are her sisters, especially Clara who's been missing their mother terribly the more she sees Christmas being done differently without her there.

But when the family opens the trunk holding the altar cloth, they find that the flood damaged the trunk enough to let in water and mice. The cloth is dirty, stained, mildewed, and chewed. Josefina's father can't even bear to stay in the same room and has to leave to compose himself. The girls and Tia Dolores are all in shock, but Tia Dolores is sure they can make it beautiful again. She declares that tomorrow they will wash the cloth, mend it, add some new material, and embroider more designs on it, making it once more beautiful in memory of Josefina's mother. Later that night, Josefina sees Clara slip something out of the trunk: Niña! Clara buries her face in the doll and sobs. Confused, Josefina tells Tia Dolores about what she saw. Wisely, Tia Dolores tells Josefina that just as Josefina is not yet ready to play Mary because of how much she misses her mother, so Clara is not yet ready to give up Niña. The time will come; Josefina must be patient and let her sister take comfort where she can find it.

Morning comes, and Tia Dolores, Ana, Francisca, Clara, and Josefina set to work on the cloth. They decide to embroider things their mother loved. Josefina gets her memory box to inspire them, and they start stitching out things like a sparrow, a sprig of lavender, and a primrose. At first Clara declines, saying it makes her miss her mother too much (the girls learned the special style of colcha embroidery from their mother). Tia Dolores presents a silver thimble, a gift from their mother to her, and says she'll be happy to share it with her nieces so they can all remember their mother together. As the sisters slowly stitch, Clara--who is best at colcha embroidery--offers tips and advice, and eventually does some stitching herself. Francisca decides that whoever uses the thimble should share a memory of their mother, and the five pass the day fixing the cloth and telling stories. Some are happy and some are sad. All are good to hear. By the time the cloth is repaired, Josefina decides she's excited to celebrate Christmas joyfully, regardless of whether she gets to have Niña yet.

The family enjoys the Las Posadas processions over the next few nights. On Christmas Eve, the cloth is finally ready to decorate the altar at church. Tia Dolores praises their work, singling out Clara's exquisite embroidery, telling her that the talent is a gift from her mother that she'll have with her the rest of her life. At the urging of Tia Dolores, Clara gives the silver thimble to Josefina, telling her to put in her memory box where they can always get to if they need it--for embroidery or remembrance. The sisters go together to their room, and Josefina sees Niña on her bed, in a new dress! Clara has decided that she's ready to let Josefina have the doll and sewn her a new dress, knowing that she has many places to find comfort. Josefina graciously tells Clara that they will share the doll, and they head out for the last night of Las Posadas.

But the girl who's been playing Mary is ill! Bravely, Josefina asks if she can take her place and pray for everyone to have a happy Christmas--those in the village and her mother in Heaven. The man in charge agrees, and Josefina's father is proud to play Joseph for his daughter (traditionally Joseph was played by the father of the girl playing Mary). With the strength of her family backing her up, Josefina overcomes her nerves and makes it through the play, ending at the church where the cloth is beautifully draped over the altar. Seeing her work mixed in with that of her mother, her sisters, and her aunt, and with her father beside her, Josefina is sure her prayer was answered.

Looking Back

Josefina and her neighbors would have looked forward to Christmas with excitement, anticipating the celebration that would last for more than a month. It was full of religious observances, familiar customs, and fun, just as it is for Christians today. The celebration began with Advent (four Sundays before Easter) and continued through Epiphany (January 6). Las Posadas was especially important in Josefina's culture, and is still performed in present-day Hispanic communities. It's a dramatic reenactment of the first Christmas, with people playing Mary and Joseph going from house to house looking for a place to stay and being turned away, as the couple was turned away from inn after inn in the Gospel. At the last house, everyone is welcomed in for a party. One the last day of Las Posadas, everyone comes into the church for the Christmas Eve midnight mass. Traditionally, the actors portraying Mary and Joseph pray for a special intention as they perform Las Posadas, which is itself considered a form of prayer.


This book is dedicated to "Granger William Tripp and Paige Elizabeth Tripp, with love."

I wonder if Ana's son Antonio was born shortly before or shortly after Ana's mother died.

A woman in the village, Tia Magdalena, is Josefina's godmother.

I have two uncle Josephs and three aunt Marys, and two are married to each other--Mary and Joseph! But their son isn't named Jesus.


A Reward for Josefina

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


While Josefina is grateful that her aunt is staying with the Montoyas to help, she can't help but feel jealous of the close connections her older sisters seem to have with Tia Dolores. Ana has gained her respect because of how she ran the Montoya household after their mother died, and as adult with a family has a different sort of relationship that a child does to another adult anyway. Francisca always makes Tia Dolores laugh with her quick wit. Clara's dedication and skill to weaving impresses Tia Dolores constantly. Josefina wants to do something to show herself worthy of her aunt's admiration as well. She is hopeful that her chance will come when the family goes to harvest pine nuts (her father offers a reward to whoever collects the most), but she's left at the campsite to watch one-year-old Antonio and three-year-old Juan with two servants. Soon though, Antonio wakes from his nap and one servant takes him to his mother while the other takes the horses to a stream for water.

Josefina and Juan quickly get bored watched their lunch cook. Juan grabs a bag and starts collecting the few stray pine nuts from the ground. He wants the reward. Josefina doesn't have the heart to tell him that it's hopeless. She shakes the trees around the campsite to help him get a few more handfuls, but his bag is still mostly empty. Josefina then climbs some of the trees, jumping on the branches to knock down more ripe nuts than her nine-year-old arms can shake loose. While she's in a tree, she and Juan spy a squirrel skulking about their campsite. They hurry to scare it off, but not before it brazenly eats a bit of their food. While they're chasing it, the pair find its horde of food in a hollow tree: hundreds of pine nuts! Josefina climbs the tree and tosses down handful after handful of nuts. Juan's bag is full to bursting! When the rest of their family returns for lunch, their sacks are heavy with nuts, but Juan's is overflowing. Josefina tells the family how she and Juan were able to get so many while still minding the camp, and Tia Dolores praises her for being so clever. That in itself is a tremendous reward for her...which is good because the squirrel made off with the candy that her father brought as the prize!

Looking Back

This time the historical section is about the some seasonal chores. In the spring, families would clean their shared irrigation systems and re-plaster their adobe houses. Once the reservoirs were full, families could plant crops. In the autumn, they would harvest and hunt and preserve food for the winter, when they needed to have enough to keep themselves and their livestock fed.


Antonio still nurses from time to time. Good for Ana. It's wonderful if a mother is able keep up breastfeeding for at least a year. According to a pamphlet I just got from the pediatrician, if a baby still nurses at a year old, around four times a day (in addition to solid food) is recommended.

Good pine nut harvests came about every few years, not predictably every year, at least in Josefina's time.


Thanks to Josefina

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


The Montoya sisters are hard at work making blankets. They know they must work diligently every day to get the blankets made by summer (when they'll be able to trade them), but they're getting tired of the labor. They chat while they work, and Francisca and Clara poke fun at Josefina's eagerness to please Tia Dolores. They only mean to gently rib her, but Josefina's feelings are hurt. Things get worse as the sisters get more stressed by their work: Ana can't help because Antonio is ill, Clara almost gleefully points out a mistake in Josefina's blanket that means she'll have to undo two days' worth of weaving, Francisca takes some of Josefina's red wool and Josefina snaps at her prompting a fight...Soon the three sisters are sniping at each other, and Josefina storms off in tears.

Teresita, Tia Dolores's servant, finds Josefina in the courtyard and politely doesn't say anything about the tears. Instead, she asks Josefina for help finding plants to use for dye. Josefina has a knack for finding the plants, and as she and Teresita talk about how the variety of plants that are all necessary, Josefina forms an idea. What if she and her sisters set up a sort of assembly line, with each doing a part of the blanket-making process they like instead of one they hate?

The sisters are thrilled with Josefina's idea. Now that they're each doing what they enjoy instead of rushing through what they hate and making mistakes, the work goes by much fast and more pleasantly...thanks to Josefina.

Looking Back

The historical section describes the process of weaving blankets, from shearing the sheep to cleaning the wool to carding and spinning it to dying it to finally weaving it. The blankets were made with different designs inspired by the New Mexican landscape and by Navajo culture. Blankets were made to trade to the United States or as gift for special occasions such as weddings.

This story takes place a week after the flood that killed the family's sheep.


Josefina Learns a Lesson

Published in 1997; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles and Susan McAliley


Now that Tia Dolores is living with Josefina's family, the sisters are learning a lot. Their sewing skills are improving, they're learning new things, and the way Tia Dolores encourages them without doing their work for them helps their self-confidence soar (this causes some friction with Francisca, who thought her aunt's arrival would mean less work, not more, but she does recognize that Tia Dolores is helping with things overall and works hard herself). Things seem to be going well for the Montoyas.

But heavy rains come, and with them, flooding. The Montoyas are lucky in that they've already harvested their crops, but most of the flock of hundreds of sheep they've been raising to trade drowns. Tia Dolores has an idea: they can use the fleece they already sheared from the sheep to weave blankets, and trade the blankets to the Pueblos for sheep to rebuild the flock. Josefina's father agrees, but Josefina's sisters point out that Josefina hasn't learned to weave. She was too young for their mother to have taught her, and still she's too small to work the large loom. Tia Dolores has a solution for that too: her servant Teresita has a smaller sort of loom that would be perfect for Josefina to learn on. Teresita is Navajo, and learned her style of weaving from her culture. The sisters make quick progress, and their father is pleased that the flock will be restored.

But Francisca's resentment grows. One day she confides to Josefina why she's so resistant to the change Tia Dolores has brought: it makes her feel less connected to their mother. She's worried that if they learn too much the new things will push the memories of their mother out of their minds. Josefina tries to reassure her sister, but she starts to worry herself. The next day, Josefina starts to recite a poem her mother taught her and is distressed to find that she can't remember most of it. Tia Dolores comes to the rescue: while in Mexico City, she wrote down all the poems and songs and sayings that she and Josefina's mother learned as children. Josefina shows the booklet to Francisca: if they learn to read and write, they won't forget their mother but will have better access to her memory. The sisters happily set about learning to read and write.

Looking Back

Learning to read and write was a rare treat for settlers in the 1824 New Mexican desert. The few schools available were in Pueblo towns or in cities, not rural areas like where Josefina lived. Most children who learned to read and write did so from educated family members, and some wealthy ones had private tutors. But even if they were illiterate, they still learned a lot. By the time they were Josefina's age, girls would have learned about sewing, weaving, knitting, spinning, gardening, cooking, and preserving food; boys would learn how to care for livestock and farm a ranch. They also learned about history, religion, and culture through oral tradition.


This book is dedicated to "my mother, Kathleen Martin Tripp, with love."

Teresita was taken captive by an enemy tribe at a young age and never saw her mother again, which is why weaving in the traditional Navajo style is so important to her.

Josefina has a memory box where she keeps things that remind her of her mother.

Josefina is naturally talented at singing, but is too shy to sing in front of crowds.

Although this takes place after Josefina has begun learning piano and is set after "Again, Josefina," at the beginning of this book, Josefina and her sisters haven't had any writing lessons yet.

Fifteen-year-old Francisca has received a marriage proposal--and turned it down by way of the custom of handing her suitor a squash.

Josefina's father can read and write, but her mother couldn't. Tia Dolores learned in Mexico City, from her aunt.

Josefina's full name is Maria Josefina Montoya. That's a good Catholic name, acknowledging Mary and Joseph!


Again, Josefina!

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


One evening as the family is listening to Tia Dolores play the piano, Josefina asks to learn to play it herself. Tia Dolores says if it's okay with Josefina's father, it's okay with her. Josefina's father says she can if she's still able to fulfill her responsibilities (household chores and watching her little nephew Antonio) and if she commits to learning the skill well, so she won't waste her aunt's time. The same offer is made to her sisters, but only Josefina wants to learn to play piano.

Although Josefina was prepared by her father about how long it might take to master the piano, her first lesson is still discouraging. Her aunt keeps prodding her to repeat things until they're perfect ("Again, Josefina."). The lesson seems to last forever, and she only plays ten notes, not any music. Still, she agrees to practice between lessons, hopeful that soon she'll get to play actual music. But it's difficult to find time, especially since Antonio seems to be giving up his naps. She's hardly making any progress, and Clara and Francisca tease her. She decides to give up, and asks her father for permission. He refuses, telling instead to practice more because she can't let a little frustration stop her desire to learn.

So Josefina has to be creative. She practices finger movements while she prepares food, and works on her posture during chores. She makes some improvements and her aunt teaches her a simple song. But it's not simple enough for the novice student, and Josefina is embarrassed when she can't play it well. Her oldest sister offers her some encouragement, telling her that she's seen how Josefina is working her practice into her chores...and that needs Josefina to watch Antonio. Ana suggests playing the piano to see if the toddler likes it.

And he does! He doesn't mind Josefina's mistakes, and his clumsy dancing encourages Josefina to overcome her embarrassment (and his shouts of "Again, Josefina!"). His determination to dance despite only just learning to walk also inspires Josefina. After just that afternoon, Josefina has the confidence to learn piano. She knows she won't be perfect right away, but she also knows she doesn't have to be.

Looking Back

In the harsh life of the high desert, the people who lived there needed moments to escape. Obviously there was no television or radio or internet, and books were rare even among the few literate people. Music became the popular option, and people held dance parties every chance they could. Most instruments were simple; something like the piano that Tia Dolores had was rare. Songs were used to teach as well as entertain: many songs helped children memorize historical facts or taught about religious values.

Tia Dolores is teaching her nieces to read and write.


Just Josefina

Short story collection published in 2006; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles, Renee Graef, Susan McAliley, and Phillip Hood


The day is finally here: Tia Dolores is moving in! Josefina's grandparents come with her for a visit, too. One of the first things Tia Dolores does is unpack her trunk. But Josefina can't stay to see the wonders her aunt is unveiling. Every time her grandmother visits, Josefina helps her settle in, because she's best at it. Josefina is proud of how she can help her grandmother, especially when her grandmother says Josefina has the same patient and caring spirit as her mother. But the task takes so long that Josefina starts feeling jealous of her sisters, who she can hear having a good time. Josefina buries her unpleasant thoughts, determined to be like her late mother. Later she's able to join in the fun, even learning a new dance that Tia Dolores picked up in Mexico City.
A few days later, Josefina's grandmother gives her a beautiful skirt, which had been her mother's. Her reasoning is that Josefina is so much like her mother, so quiet and obedient, unlike Tia Dolores. Josefina puts the skirt on, but it's so tight she can hardly move for fear of snapping off the buttons. But she wants to please her grandmother, and it's comforting to be reminded of her mother, so she leaves it on. She also finds herself not acting quite as she normally would, being less playful and exuberant, because when she acts differently her grandmother compares her to her mother. During a party with the neighbors that evening, Tia Dolores plays her piano and asks Josefina to demonstrate the dance she taught her, as Josefina learned it best of the sisters. Josefina's grandmother disapproves, but after listening to the music, Josefina can't help herself. As she whirls around, a button pops and flies off the skirt, landing right at her grandmother's feet. Her grandmother leaves the room and doesn't speak to Josefina for the rest of the night.
The next morning, Josefina places the skirt outside the door to her grandmother's room. As she's leaving, her grandmother opens the door and asks Josefina in. Josefina explains that she meant no disrespect, but she's her own person, not a copy of her mother. Josefina's grandmother agrees, and apologizes for trying to make Josefina into someone else when she's already a lovely person on her own. She gives the button and the skirt to Josefina, advising her to sew the button back on but in a different place, so the skirt will fit looser for dancing.

Looking Back

Women in 1824 New Mexico--then a part of the country of Mexico--enjoyed many freedoms compared to their American counterparts. They could own land and operate businesses even after becoming married, and when they married they followed the Spanish tradition of keeping their original last names. Their clothing was looser and lighter, too, which made sense in the hot desert and surrounding areas. They could make our their own wills separate from their husbands' wills if they wanted to, dictating where the property they brought into a marriage would go. Most of the women who worked did so in trades that were traditionally "women's work" like being healers and midwives, but they had other options too.

The title of this story bugs me. Because the J in Josefina is pronounced like an H, the alliteration of "Just Josefina" doesn't work.


Meet Josefina

Published in 1997; author Valerie Tripp; illustrators Jean-Paul Tibbles and Susan McAliley


Josefina Montoya is the youngest of four girls, growing up near Santa Fe in 1824. Her oldest sister, Ana, is married and has two boys; Francisca is fifteen, and Clara is twelve. The three younger girls live with their father on his large rancho. Their mother passed away about a year ago. Since then, Ana has been helping out more, and everyone has pitched in, but the family feels the loss bitterly. It's a welcome distraction when their maternal grandfather's caravan returns from Mexico City with their maternal aunt, who is moving to Santa Fe.

Josefina notices that her aunt, Tia Dolores, is a wonderful influence on the family. Her middle sisters don't fight as much, her father is happier, and no one seems as overwhelmed. Even Josefina overcomes her anxiety around their goats, albeit because the meanest goat eats the bouquet Josefina made for Tia Dolores and tramples the flowers her late mother planted with seeds from Tia Dolores. Josefina is dismayed, thinking the flowers are dead. But Tia Dolores inspects them, and sees that they're just eaten at. The flowers will grow back in the spring.

Seeing how much more smoothly her family operates with Tia Dolores around gives Josefina an idea: her aunt should move in with them. That way she can have a place to stay, and help the family with so many things. Her sisters agree, but of course they have to get their father and their aunt on board with the idea first. Tia Dolores has brought so many wonderful things with her--seeds and sewing patterns and fabric and brightly dyed wool for weaving for the girls and her piano--and Josefina and her sisters would love to learn more about these things with her. The four girls bring up the idea to their father, who agrees to ask Tia Dolores about it.

But the next day, Josefina sees her aunt packing things into her grandfather's wagon. Her aunt is leaving for Santa Fe--closer than Mexico City, but still far away. As she goes back into the house, Josefina spies something large in the corner: her aunt's piano! Josefina goes back out to her aunt, and confirms what she suspects: Tia Dolores is going to Santa Fe for a visit, to see her mother whom she hasn't seen for ten years. Then she's moving in with Josefina's family!

Looking Back

When Josefina was growing up, much of the American Southwest belonged to Mexico. It had been settled by Spanish immigrants, so the non-indigenous people had many cultural similarities with the European country, like speaking Spanish and practicing Catholicism. By Josefina's time, the Spanish immigrants' descendants got along well with the Pueblo tribe, but others such as the Comanche, Apache, Navajo, and Ute tribes posed a threat. Families who lived outside large cities--like Josefina's--lived on large fortified ranchos, and women and children were discouraged from wandering too far away on their own. But they still had lots of contact with people outside their often-large extended families. For example, in the early 1800s, the United States established trade routes with Mexico, and many families sold or traded their crafts, crops, and livestock. After the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the southern border of the United States was close to what we see today. The Gadsden Purchase of the 1850s transformed the final little sliver of the American Southwest into US soil. The $10 million strip of land ($260 million today) completed the contiguous US (Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867; Hawaii was annexed in 1898; Puerto Rico was ceded 1898; the US Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1917).


This book is dedicated to "my husband, Michael, and my daughter, Katherine, with love."

Since it's a Spanish name, it's pronounced "ho-seh-FEE-nah."Also, "tia" is Spanish for "aunt."

Compared to the previous American Girls, Josefina is shy and reserved.

Josefina's family is wealthy enough to have servants.