Since it's summer, Opal and her new best friend Winn-Dixie have lots of time to explore and get to know all kinds of different people, including her own mother. Opal's mother left when she was three, and her dad has withdrawn like a turtle into its shell ever since. Now, Opal wants to know more and she talks her dad into telling her ten things about her mother and hopes this opens the door to more information about her.
Now, Winn-Dixie is a great dog, loyal, loving, smiling, but he does not like being left alone and he is deathly afraid of thunderstorms. He goes nuts during thunderstorms, running back and forth trying to get out and Opal has to figure out how to keep him calm and safe. And when Winn-Dixie is left alone, he howls. Which is just what happens every time Opal goes into a place with a no-dogs-allowed policy, beginning with the Open Arms Baptist Church on Sunday morning, and then when Opal goes to the library.
Opal loves hearing stories, and she's now spending lots of time at the Herman W. Block Memorial Library, where she gets to know Miss Franny Block, Herman's daughter. Before she knows it, Miss Franny Block has a dog in her no-dogs-allowed library, telling Opal and Winn-Dixie the story of the bear that once came into the library and making two new friends.
As Winn-Dixie's fur grows back in and he begins to look really cared for and healthy, Opal decides to buy him a collar and leash. But the ones she likes are too expensive, so she strikes a deal with the store clerk, the guitar-playing Otis, to buy them on the installment plan in return for work, but only of Winn-Dixie can come into the no-dogs-allowed story, and yes, a smile and a tail-wag and he's in.
Thanks to the annoying brothers Dunlap and Stevie Dewberry, the next person Opal meets is Miss Gloria Dump, a very old, nearly blind lady who likes to eat peanut butter sandwiches and who immediately takes a shine to the ever smiling Winn-Dixie, and is not at all the witch the boys think she is.
These are the first new friends that Opal makes thanks to Winn-Dixie. To celebrate, she and Gloria Dump decide to have a party and invite everyone, including the Dewberry brother. There are egg salad sandwiches, punch and Litmus Lozenges, a strange candy invented by Miss Franny Block's great grandfather after the Civil War that tastes oddly like root beer, strawberry and sadness. The party is a big success until along comes a thunderstorm and Winn-Dixie runs away.
Will Opal and her father find Winn-Dixie? And will Opal finally be able to pull her father out of his shell?
Ever since I read Old Yeller as a young girl, I've been rather skeptical about dog stories and tend to avoid them. But we have been reading a lot of Kate DiCamillo's books this summer and Because of Winn-Dixie, was the most requested. It is, in fact, DiCamillo's debut novel, and was a Newbury Honor Book in 2001.
Even though this is a bit on the sentimentally enchanting side, I nevertheless thought that Because of Winn-Dixie really dealt well with some important themes for young readers today: loss, grief, loneliness, and unfamiliar places that slowly turns into hope, friendship and new beginnings for everyone that Winn-Dixie smiles at and whose story Opal is interested in hearing about.
DiCamillo is such a master wordsmith that although the novel feels almost light and breezy, it is anything but. She develops her characters, bringing their wonderfully quirky personalities to the fore so slowly it is like she has caressed them into being. And yet, the language is straightforward and simple enough that even my six-year-old listener was spellbound and rooting for everyone.
Older readers sharing this book with young readers may find the ending a little overly simplistic and predictable, but that's OK. Sometimes, that's just what you need. Besides, what is important here is the journey each character took to get them to the moment when they all came together and the journey they will share from then on enriching each others lives. And maybe because I have a southern mother and come from a long line of southern preachers, and maybe because this is such a well-crafted story, I can honestly say that I really loved this book and so did the kids I read it to.
There is a very useful Teacher's Resource guide available from the publisher, Candlewick Press, that can be downloaded HERE
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library