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.

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