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Literature / American Girls: Josefina

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Josefina Montoya, released in 1997, was the sixth historical character of the American Girls Collection, representing the history of New Mexico under Mexican Rule (prior to ownership by the United States after the Mexican-American War).

Josefina is a young girl growing up in New Mexico in 1824. Following the death of her mother, Josefina must now adapt to the addition of her Tía Dolores to the family, and pursue her dream of becoming a healer like her Tía Magdalena. Her books revolve around dealing with loss and the changes that came with Mexico and the U.S.'s increased trade.

  1. Meet Josefina
  2. Josefina Learns a Lesson
  3. Josefina's Surprise
  4. Happy Birthday, Josefina!
  5. Josefina Saves the Day
  6. Changes for Josefina


The series includes the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Josefina's oldest sister Ana is a mother of two little boys at 15, which is appropriate for the time period.
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Josefina is the youngest of the four Montoya sisters.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Josefina is suddenly a lot less of a Shrinking Violet when you piss her off.
  • Big Little Sister: Tía Dolores is taller than her older sister, Josefina's late mother, something Josefina observes upon meeting her aunt the first time.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Francisca (15 at the start) and Clara (12 at the start) have their moments; Books 2 and 3 feature this as a focus. Just think Lydia and Mary Bennett minus the lack of talent and selfishness and with more redeemable qualities.
  • Cool Aunt:
    • Tia Dolores functions as an enlivening, active, positive woman who encourages her nieces to take some risks and grow as people, even encouraging them to learn how to read and write.
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    • Tía Magdalena, Josefina's paternal aunt, is a healer is single and who has lived by herself. She dispenses wisdom and comfort, encouraging Josefina to do work that stands apart from that of other girls and learn how to be a healer herself. She even takes the time to joke with Josefina about how stubborn Josefina's father was in his youth.
  • Cool Big Sis: Francisca has her moments, like in Josefina Saves the Day when she's the one to accompany Josefina into Santa Fe in the middle of the night to get the stuff Patrick O'Toole left for them.
    • Ana also serves this role, as she has matured out of her teen years, sweet, is assuring, and stays away from the bickering that occurs with her younger sisters.
    • According to Tia Dolores, her sister (Josefina's mother) was this in their childhood. Helping her with sewing and colcha embroidery, even gifting her a thimble that Dolores still cherishes.
    • Tía Magdalena was likely this to Josefina's father when they were younger, having saved him from a rattlesnake bite.
  • Cool Old Lady: Tía Magdalena is a good-humored healer who Josefina confides in.
  • Dance of Romance: Josefina first realizes that her father and Tía Dolores are in love when she sees them dance a waltz together at a fiesta.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Josefina's Surprise puts some focus on Clara and how she's coping with their mother's death at Christmas, as well as showing her to be skilled at sewing when the altar cloth has to be repaired.
  • Death by Childbirth: Florecita, one of the goats on the rancho, in Happy Birthday, Josefina! Her baby survives and is nursed back to health by Josefina, who names her Sombrita.
  • Fear of Thunder: Josefina, although she is actually afraid of lightning.
  • First Love: This trope is alluded to. There's a poem about first love was a favorite of Josefina's mother, even though she could not read. Her literate aunt wrote the poem down at some point and uses it to encourage Josefina to read. It is implied that the poem is unique for Josefina's late mother through the series as it takes Josefina's father some time to grow to love her aunt, Tía Dolores.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: The Montoya sisters:
    1. Ana, the oldest and the Team Mom (almost literally, since their mother is dead and she's already married with two kids);
    2. Francisca, the beautiful, fashionable, rebellious one;
    3. Clara, the diligent, prudent, preachy one;
    4. Josefina, the youngest and the main character, who's chirpy and cheerful and tries to keep the peace between Francisca and Clara when Ana's not around.
  • Grande Dame: Josefina's Abuelita functions in this role, being very tight with their traditions and wary of Americanos. She is even depicted with the white hair and mantilla lace with a comb.
  • Grumpy Bear: Clara can be this, being very matter-of-fact to the point where it can worry others, Ana usually smooths out any worries.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Josefina's sister Francisca can count as one. It's noted this one Americano guest of Josefina's grandfather who is fluent in Spanish and an all around Nice Guy, but he forgets to say "Gracias" when Francisca serves drinks. Josefina notes that Francisca's looks tend to provoke that reaction in even men who spoke perfect Spanish.
  • I Miss Mom: The plot of the first book focuses on the sisters trying to find happiness and adjust to a new routine after the death of their mother. Tia Dolores helps bring life and energy back to their lives. Josefina struggles with her mother’s absence again during Josefina’s Surprise, as she worries experiencing the Christmas traditions without her Mama will bring more pain than joy.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In Changes for Josefina, Tía Dolores feels that despite her feelings for Josefina's Papá, she has to leave the ranch so he can find a new wife. Ironically, Papá does love Tía Dolores, but he wants his beloved to be happy and let her go where she wants to go. Fortunately they end up Happily Married with each other when Josefina clears up the situation with her Papá.
  • Maiden Aunt: Tia Dolores, to some extent, as she is single and devoted a decade of her life to caring for an aunt in Mexico City and came back to care for her parents and teach her nieces.
  • May–December Romance:
    • Fandom seems to like Josefina/Patrick, with an age disparity of six years.
    • Apparently the case with Josefina's parents, if her mother married anywhere near as young as Ana, given how the illustrations depict him as a serious-looking middle-aged man. Further supporting this trope, Papá's sister is old enough to be seen as a respected elder, while Mamá's younger sister (Tia Dolores) is still young enough to bear children.
  • Memento MacGuffin: A handmade doll named Niña fulfills this purpose in Josefina's Surprise. She is both a valuable part of a family tradition and a keepsake from the sisters' mother. The tradition in question is to for the sister with the doll to hand it down to the next youngest sister when she turns eight years old, but Clara breaks the pattern by hanging onto Niña after their mother dies. She completes her Character Development when she gains enough confidence to make peace with her mother's death, gains more confidence in her own abilities, and finally gives the doll to Josefina.
  • Missing Mom: Josefina's mom died a year prior to the first book. This becomes a plot point in Josefina's Surprise and is a major influence on the entire series.
  • Never Learned to Read: Josefina’s mother was illiterate and so are Josefina and her sisters. Josefina Learns a Lesson revolves around the girls learning to read and write.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Averted with Josefina's name. There is a footnote at the beginning of each book explaining that her name is pronounced "ho-se-fee-nah" in Spanish.
  • Not So Above It All: Clara tends to pride herself on being sensible and practical to the point of being The Bore, but she sometimes does Cantu childish arguments with her older sister Francisca and can be petty and also gets excited over fiestas and presents like her sisters and nephews.
  • Proper Lady: According to Abuelita, Josefina's mother was this, being a notable farm wife and mother who focused on the home and was very quiet as a child.
  • Raised by Grandparents: This seemed to be the case with Josefina's friend Mariana. She lives with her grandparents and no parents are mentioned.
  • Rite of Passage: Josefina inheriting her family doll.
  • Second Love: The series ends with Papá and Tía Dolores getting together.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: In Josefina's Surprise, Josefina finds out that Clara hasn't actually lost Nina, the doll that was supposed to be handed down to her as per family tradition, and has been keeping her secretly. She's upset, but Tia Dolores explains that Clara misses their mother and is holding on to the doll as a way to remember her, so Josefina doesn't ask Clara about Nina anymore. When Clara is ready, she gives Josefina the doll before Christmas, complete with a new dress she made herself that looks exactly like Josefina's dress.
  • Shrinking Violet:
    • Josefina is very quiet and shy, mostly opens up to her family and close friends.
    • Her father is also quiet and shy, much like her.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Not involving Josefina herself, but in Meet Josefina, middle sisters Francisca and Clara are constantly squabbling, and it's implied to be an ongoing issue. Tía Dolores ultimately helps them get past this while she's living with them.
  • Spicy Latina: Beautiful, hot-tempered, and stubborn Francisca. Most of the other women and girls in the books tend to avert this.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Tía Dolores was this and is now a more polished and mature version of this trope, aiding both her nieces in running the ranch and her brother-in-law in his business. Her hard work ethic encourages the girls to do more.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Played with. Josefina and her sisters are shocked when Tía Dolores (politely) makes business suggestions to Papá on how to replace the sheep the family lost in a recent flood; Josefina muses on how their father never discussed business with his wife, Tía Dolores's sister, and while she admits the idea was good, she isn't sure it was proper of Tía Dolores to interject. Francisca later accuses Dolores of acting like "the patrona" (Spanish for a woman boss).
  • Teen Pregnancy: Implied with Ana, Josefina's oldest sister. Ana is 20 years old and already a married mother to two young boys aged 5 and 3 years old. Given that Josefina's stories are set in a time period where girls were eligible for marriage after having their quinceañera, it's justified.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: The sisters learn to make dresses of their own and weave blankets from sheep's wool to sell. At Christmas, with the help of their aunt, they repair the Las Posadas altar cloth that their mother made, using a special type of embroidery called colcha. Josefina notes that Clara is especially good at it, even sewing a new dress for Niña the doll when she's ready to hand her down to Josefina at last.
    • In a later book, a large portion of the Montoya's sheep herd is killed in a flood. Tía Dolores gets the idea to weave blankets from the wool of the dead sheep, which they can then trade for new sheep and other commodities.
  • Translation Train Wreck: Related. Instead of being illegible because it was bad, the now out-of-print official Spanish editions of Josefina's books were illegible to kids because they were a little too good. The entire story was translated into 1824-accurate Spanish, which may have been accurate and fascinating, but it was the equivalent of printing both dialogue and prose of Felicity's books in 1770s English, and there's a reason AG didn't do that. Kids got confused and the translation didn't last long on shelves.