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!

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