Because of Winn-Dixie

April 27, 2016
Because of Winn-Dixie Book Cover Because of Winn-Dixie
Katye DiCamillo
August 6th, 2001

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. It’s now available in a paperback digest format certain to bring this tale’s magic to an even wider circle of fans.

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.

(via Goodreads)

Kate DiCamillo’s debut novel is a heartbreaking and beautiful story dealing with many critical themes. A Newbery Honor book, this makes a vivid statement in children’s literature.

Winn Dixie RainstormOpal just moved to the fictional Naomi, Florida with her father the preacher. Her mother walked out of their lives seven years ago, and they are both still vividly feeling the pain of that loss, as well as coping with trying to find a place in their new community. On a trip to a Winn-Dixie grocery store Opal observes the supermarket staff shouting and herding a mangy looking dog. Without thinking about it, Opal claims the dog as her own to save him. She names him Winn-Dixie for lack of better inspiration. Opal takes him home, and Winn-Dixie helps Opal, her father, and many other members of the Naomi community heal.

Thanks to Winn-Dixie, Opal is suddenly making friends. Because Winn-Dixie “couldn’t stand to be left alone,” he and Opal are inseparable. Everywhere Opal goes, so does Winn-Dixie. However, he is not the most obedient nor the most aesthetically pleasing dog, and his mannerisms run them both into many of the inhabitants of Naomi, Florida.

They meet Miss Franny Block, the librarian, and learn about sadness and how to listen. They meet Otis and his parrot Gertrude and learn about connecting with others and forgiveness. Winn Dixie OtisThey meet Sweetie Pie Thomas, a 5-year-old, and learn about friendship and happiness. They meet Gloria Dump and learn that not all things are as they seem. Together, these characters help Opal and her father cope with their own losses and sadness as they begin to learn more about the loss and sadness the other people of Naomi are also subsisting with.

Because of Winn-Dixie deals with many important themes are typically challenging to discuss with younger children. Sadness, grief, loss, hope, acceptance, forgiveness– lots of lessons about appreciating people who for they are and not judging based on appearances. Most importantly to me is the lesson that melancholy is part of life. You can’t hide from it. It will make your life bittersweet, but without it, we would have nothing to compare the happy times with.

Winn Dixie DinnerSadness and grief are the most prominent of these recurring themes. DiCamillo does a great job of opening up to these topics. Her characters demonstrate that sadness happens, and it’s okay to feel melancholy. The acceptance of these strong, and often denoted as negative, feelings, is a critical life lesson. These are hard concepts for younger children who might not have experienced them much, and I’m glad to see these addressed in a fairly positive manner.

In 2013, a film was created based off this movie. Based on the extended preview alone, it looks like they stuck pretty close to the book. Also, Dave Matthews plays Otis!? I must see this movie at some point.

A beautiful novel that I would recommend to all ages.

4 stars

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