From Goodreads: Kate DiCamillo’s first published novel, like Winn-Dixie himself, immediately proved to be a keeper — a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor winner, the inspiration for a popular film, and most especially, a cherished classic that touches the hearts of readers of all ages… The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket–and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship–and forgiveness–can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.
I recently finished reading Because of Winn-Dixie aloud to my five-year-old (on the recommendation of my CP, Temre Beltz — thanks, Tem!) and I’m not sure who loved the story more: my girlie or me. Protagonist Opal is just darling. She’s sweet and straightforward and open-minded. She’s curious and precocious, but she’s also desperately lonely. She has an intense desire to fit in, to make friends and find her place in the world. I loved Opal for her bravery and her inquisitiveness and her determination.
Loyal Winn-Dixie crashes (literally) into Opal’s life within the first few pages of the novel. Her world brightens immediately. Winn-Dixie brings change just by being his shaggy self. He’s the catalyst through which Opal’s horizons begin to expand. His wagging tail and cheesy doggy smile help Opal meet people and make connections and even address some of the issues she has concerning her estranged mother and her well-meaning preacher father. Pretty much everything Winn-Dixie did made me smile, mostly because he brought so much joy to Opal.
The new friends who enter Opal’s life throughout the course of this story are as colorful and special as Opal herself. They’re old and young, simple and educated, happy and sad (Otis is my favorite!). They’re a diverse bunch, yet through Opal and Winn-Dixie, they find common ground. The relationships Opal forms with her new friends are unique and beautiful. Each character is wonderfully flawed, allowing Opal to see that people shouldn’t be defined by their mistakes. They let Opal know them for who they truly are, and they teach her about herself in the process. Opal’s journey to self-acceptance and self-reliance makes for a captivating and uplifting story.
I recommend Because of Winn-Dixie to anyone who enjoys lovely writing and charming characters, and especially to those who love a middle grade novel that appears simple on the surface but hides a complex, intricately woven message within the depths of its pages. If you have a child in your life, read Because of Winn-Dixie aloud to him or her. You’ll be so glad you did! (Oh, and if you like films based on children’s literature, the movie adaptation of Because of Winn-Dixie is incredibly well done.)
Tell me: Do you have a favorite middle grade novel?