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.


Isabel Escalante said...

I don't think I read this book, but it sounds lovely.
Josefina's birthday, March 19-- that's the birthday of a brother of one of my students. My student's name (not the one with the March 19 birthday) is Mariano, the masculine form of Mariana, Josefina's friend in the book.
And when I was about 9 (around the time when I first discovered BSC books, I had a cat that followed me to the grocery store once, and even waited for me outside the door until I was finished shopping. Then, she would walk home with me. I named her Sheba, like the Brand of cat food, because she was black.
I just felt like sharing some interesting coincidences with this book, post, and blog in general. :)

SJSiff said...

I love hearing about coincidences like that. Thanks for sharing! :)