Thursday, February 7, 2008

Kate DiCamillo

Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo
Recommended Age: 10+

This Newbery Honor Book from the year 2000 was recently made into a movie, which I still haven’t seen (oops), but if you’re like me, you got the impression from the previews that the movie is about a dog named after a supermarket chain, a dog that charms its way into the hearts of a variety of people not only because it seems to understand what people are saying, but also because it can actually smile. And if you got that impression, you would be correct.

The book is told in the voice of a girl named India Opal Buloni, the daughter of a Baptist preacher in a small town in southern Florida. She is lonely, because she just moved to town and hasn’t made any new friends. And besides, her mother ran away when she was three years old, and Opal thinks about her now more than ever. As a pastor’s kid whose mother also ran away, I can understand Opal’s feelings of loneliness: it isn’t easy to be close to such a Dad, even when he is the only person you have. So it really is a good thing that Opal falls in love with a mangy dog that she meets, of all places, in a grocery store. She really needs the company!

And Winn-Dixie, as the dog is called, proves to be very good company. Cheerful, sociable, multi-talented (he can catch a mouse without killing it), Winn-Dixie helps Opal build friendships with an assortment of people, like the elderly town librarian, a guitar-playing ex-convict who works in a pet store, a half-blind lady who is considered a witch by local children, and several children that Opal would never have tried to make friends with otherwise.

She also experiences a bit of magic, even beyond the magic of a dog who can smile. What do you call a bear reading War and Peace? Or a shopful of reptiles and rodents who sit quietly to listen to music? Or, best of all, a kind of candy that tastes both sweet and sad?

This is a delightful, warm little story, full of humor and hope and sensitivity. It’s all about being open to the possibility of finding friendship in unexpected places, the need to let go of people who are gone, the sweetness of shared sadness, and the power of kindness. Also, it has a nifty punch recipe in it.

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