Author: Valerie Tripp
Series: American Girl
Major Themes: Family, New Mexico
Synopsis: Josefina, a nine-year-old living in New Mexico in the years before it joined the US, enjoys life with her family and learns new lessons.
When I was young, my mother was presented with a challenge most mothers will face at one stage or another—I loved to read, and was always looking for new books to try. Thankfully, I wasn’t one of those children who read ahead of their parents—too much, anyway!—and we had a good library system available to us. I remember going through a stage of wanting to read all the American Girls books I could, and she let me, although she steered me away from one or two series that had a particularly strong feminist slant or similar sorts of things.
Josefina was one series that I was allowed to read, and when I remembered it several months ago, I realized my younger sister would likely be enthralled by the stories as much as I had been when I was a bit older than her! Sure enough. As soon as we started reading them together as a bedtime story, she was intrigued—and I enjoyed visiting an old piece of my girlhood. These books aren’t particularly well-written, but they do teach a bit of history while providing an entertaining story of girls that didn’t always live the same way we do today. Even though I did try to break up the reading somewhat (alternating these books with something slightly more well-written), we both enjoyed the experience, and I’m excited to share this series with you today.
Book 1: Meet Josefina: An American Girl
Josefina is a nine-year-old who lives in New Mexico before it became part of the United States. She lives with her father and three sisters, and together, she and her sisters do their best to keep the house going now that her mother is no longer alive. When word comes that her grandfather’s (abuelo’s) trading caravan is heading their way with her Tia (Aunt) Dolores, her mother’s sister, whom she has never met, Josefina excitedly prepares for her arrival.
Book 2: Josefina Learns a Lesson: A School Story
After the girls petition their father for permission, they invite Tia Dolores to move to the rancho to help them with their work. Even though Ana, the oldest, is married, she’d much rather have help and guidance for a few years before handling all the housework herself. Whether surviving a flood or finding a way to make more money for the family, Tia Dolores’ resourcefulness and determination inspire the girls to work harder and enjoy their work as they do it.
Book 3: Josefina’s Surprise: A Christmas Story
With Christmas coming on, Josefina and her family prepare for the festive season both at home and with their community. Josefina is invited to play the part of Mary in the annual Christmas pageant, but she is afraid that she won’t be able to do it well. Meanwhile, the family discovers that some treasured embroidery from her mother (who died before the series began) is in terrible disrepair. Will they be able to get the altar cloth repaired in time for Christmas, or will that piece of Mama’s life disappear, as well?
Book 4: Happy Birthday, Josefina!: A Spring Story
Josefina goes to visit her godmother, an older lady in the village who is a curandera, a healer. While at her house, Josefina learns a little about herbs, how they can be used to help heal people, and wants to discover the art for herself. She also accompanies her father on a trading trip and nearly loses a new friend and her pet goat kid to a rattlesnake. (Note on curandera: Apparently, the word can be associated with shamanism; in this case, I didn’t pick up on any of that. As far as I recall, it was only an older lady with herb knowledge who used her skills to help people. What was portrayed in this book is, I believe, perfectly legitimate.)
Book 5: Josefina Saves the Day: A Summer Story
Josefina and her family go to visit her grandparents, who live near Santa Fe. While there, the American wagon train comes through on the Santa Fe trail, and Josefina and her family get to meet Patrick O’Toole, a scout for the wagon train. Patrick promises to help Josefina’s father sell his mules, and Josefina and her sisters enlist his help with a special project. When Patrick disappears in the middle of the night without fulfilling his promises, Josefina and one of her sisters must make a dangerous trip into the city to try to save his and her family’s reputation.
Book 6: Changes for Josefina: A Winter Story
Josefina’s aunt, Tia Dolores, announces that the family doesn’t need her help anymore—she’s going to move to Santa Fe, where she can help her elderly parents. Josefina is crushed. She, and her other sisters, have come to love and rely on Tia Dolores. After they lost their mother, Tia Dolores filled her place, helping them with household chores and giving them ideas for how to support the entire family with what they got off the rancho. Now she’s leaving, and they feel at a loss as to how to proceed. Is there any way to bring about a happy ending for all of them?
My 6- and now 7-year-old sister and I have spent several months, maybe up to a year, getting through this series. They aren’t great literature; there are parts of the stories that I didn’t agree with or felt like the plot could have been made stronger. Overall, though, this is a gentle, sweet story about a New Mexican girl growing up over a year’s time, and it makes an excellent read-aloud with flavors of another time and culture. I think it was the cultural side of things that stuck out to me most when I read them many years ago, and I found that part both beautiful and interesting this time through, as well. I’m glad I remembered Josefina, after all these years! My sister and I have made special memories reading her story together.
WARNING: If I remember right, books 1 and 2 both mention praying to the saints. In book 2, there are mentions of the family altar—ch. 2 and again in the historical note. As a Catholic family, the family would say their prayers around the altar. In book 3, ch. 1 and ch. 4, there are a couple of mentions of praying for the dead. Also in ch. 4, Mary, mother of Jesus, is referred to as “Maria, Queen of Heaven”, and there is a mention of families going to Mass. See the paragraph about book 4. In book 6, heavens was used in ch. 2, page 24, and in ch. 3, pg. 45. Near the end of ch. 2, someone gives Josefina a milagro, something like a charm to hold to pray for something special to happen. That appears sometimes throughout the rest of the book.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9, 8 – 12
Links to buy this book:
Amazon: Paperback (6-book box set) | Hardcover (6-book box set)
AbeBooks: View Choices on AbeBooks.com
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