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?

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