Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: Light and Shadow
It is a rainy October evening, two weeks after Tía Dolores has returned from visiting her parents in Santa Fe. Josefina, her sisters, and Tía Dolores sew in the family sala using new patterns Tía Dolores brought from Mexico City, and fabrics from the United States. Josefina finishes her dress and tries it on, pleased with her work. Tía Dolores gives Clara sewing advice, which reminds all of them of Mamá. Francisca and Clara squabble over Francisca's stitches, and Josefina distracts them by singing and dancing in her new dress. Tía Dolores plays the song on the piano, and soon all the sisters are dancing, fight forgotten. Papá comes in to see them before going to the village. With all the rain he wants to check on his sister, Tía Magdalena, because the stream might flood. Josefina is worried, but they pray with Papá and say goodnight.
Josefina is too worried to sleep. She listens to the storm and thinks about Papá, hoping her prayers protect him. The church bell in the village starts clanging very fast, signaling an emergency. Tía Dolores comes to get Josefina, Clara, and Francisca to save what they can from the kitchen garden while others in the rancho move the animals out of danger and build up the banks of the stream. Josefina is afraid of lightning, and freezes when they go outside. Mamá used to help her through storms and Tía Dolores does the same thing, putting an arm around her shoulders. They make it to the garden, which is flooding, and pick everything they can before it washes away.
Chapter Two: Turning Blankets Into Sheep
The next day is clear, though the ground is still wet. Papá returns from the village with good news and bad. Tía Magdelena is safe, but part of the church collapsed. The rancho's harvest is safe, but many crops in the village were lost. They did a good job saving the kitchen garden, but hundreds of the rancho's sheep were drowned trying to cross an arroyo to higher ground. Sheep are very important to the rancho for meat and wool for trading, and it is a terrible loss. Papá thinks he will have to trade all his mules for new sheep, but Tía Dolores has the idea for everyone on the rancho to weave all their wool into blankets to trade for sheep. Josefina and her sisters are shocked that Tía Dolores is discussing business with Papá, since that is something Mamá never did. Francisca is especially upset, and points out that Josefina cannot weave because she is too small. Tía Dolores says she has a loom Josefina might be able to use, and Josefina is eager to help any way she can. She raises their spirits and everyone is willing to try, even Francisca.
That afternoon Tía Dolores takes Josefina to her servant, Teresita, to learn to weave. They get started right away, because as Tía Dolores says, the saints cry over lost time. Teresita is Navajo, and learned to weave from her mother before she was captured as a little girl. She tells Josefina the story of how the Navajos learned to weave, and shows Josefina how the loom works. Josefina admires the beautiful pattern in the finished part of the blanket, especially the red yarn that makes the other colors look better. She takes a turn, and though her work is slow and she has to start over many times, she does well and by the next lesson Teresita has set up a loom just for her. Josefina is proud to be able to help her family.
Chapter Three: Rabbit Brush
Josefina and her sisters go on an expedition to gather different plants that they will use to dye the wool for weaving. They have a successful morning and stop to eat at mid-day. Josefina, Clara, and Ana are in high spirits, but Francisca is grumpy. She does not like weaving nor the extra work they have to do. Francisca does not like that Tía Dolores always wants them to do something new and different and change their ways. Tía Dolores is not what Francisca expected. The sisters argue until Ana says Francisca is grumpy because she has to get up early, and Mamá always said Francisca was sweet as long as she got enough sleep. Francisca get a funny look on her face when Ana mentions Mamá, and Josefina sings the morning song Mamá used to sing for Francisca. It makes Francisca feel better until they meet Tía Dolores walking back to the rancho. Tía Dolores says Josefina should sing in the Christmas celebration, and Francisca makes her point when Tía Dolores encourages Josefina despite her fears.
Chapter Four: The First Love
A few nights later, Josefina and her family are in the family sala. Josefina and Clara spin wool, Francisca sews, and Tía Dolores keeps track of the weaving business at her writing desk. Josefina thinks of all the changes Tía Dolores has brought: piano, writing desk, paper, ink, pen, ledger, and best of all Papá looks happier than he has since Mamá died. Tía Dolores shows Papá her figures for the weaving business and how many sheep it will bring. Papá says it is fortunate Tía Dolores can read and write, and Tía Dolores offers to teach the sisters how to as well. Francisca is unhappy at this idea, and resists Tía Dolores' attempts to convince her it is a worthwhile skill. Tía Dolores says Papá won Mamá's heart with his letters, because she loved his signature. Papá shows Josefina and Clara the fancy way he used to write his signature. Josefina wants to learn how to write so beautifully, but Francisca has already left the room.
A sound wakes Josefina that night, and she finds Francisca crying outside in the courtyard. Josefina is worried about her sister, and offers to get Tía Dolores. Francisca says she has had enough of Tía Dolores. All the changes Tía Dolores is making are taking them farther and farther away from the life they knew with Mamá. The more they change and the more things they learn the less they will have to remember Mamá. They are already starting to forget her. Francisca decides she won't do anything else that makes her forget Mamá, and tells Josefina she has to decide too. Josefina worries that Francisca is right and wonders what she should do.
In the morning Josefina is in low spirits when she and Tía Dolores do laundry. Tía Dolores puts washed cloths on a bush to dry, and reminds Josefina of a poem Mamá loved about four white doves in a rosemary bush. Josefina can't remember all the words, and worries to Tía Dolores that she can keep things that remind her of Mamá, but she'll never be able to keep her words. Tía Dolores takes Josefina back to the family sala and her writing desk, and shows her a little book full of words and sketches. One page has a sketch of four white doves and the words to the poem, which Tía Dolores reads to Josefina. The book is full of poems and stories that Tía Dolores wrote down that she and Mamá loved. If Josefina learns to read and write, she can read the book and write down her own things that remind her of Mamá where she will never forget them. Josefina shows the book to Francisca and tells her how reading and writing will help them hold on to Mamá rather than push her away. Francisca smiles and she and Josefina ask Tía Dolores to read more. Tía Dolores will, but first she writes their names in the book, and adds lots of flourishes to Josefina's name.
Looking Back: School in 1824
Discusses education in New Mexico. Topics include:
- How New Mexican children were schooled, including Catholic mission schools for Puebo Indian children.
- The use of a silabario to teach a child how to read, and what quill pens and ink-horns were made out of.
- Why paper and books were so precious to families, and what kinds of books settlers would have.
- What children were taught from their parents and grandparents, including household chores and farm work.
- The religious education children received from their parents, and what Catholic priests taught children.
- The use of cuentos and dichos to teach good behavior lessons to children.
- What children were taught through Spanish songs, poems and plays, including the history of Spain.
Glossary of Spanish Words
In the back of Josefina Learns a Lesson is a glossary listing and defining the Spanish words used throughout the book along with a close pronunciation.
Items associated with Josefina Learns a Lesson