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.
Opal 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. They 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.
Sadness 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.