Kate DiCamillo’s debut children’s novel, “Because of Winn-Dixie” has been a classic for some time now. It won the Newbery Honor medal in 2000 when it was first published and has been a favorite among children and adults alike since its release.
It is geared more to the middle school audience with more mature themes about “real” life including loss and grief and fear. India Opal and her father, the preacher in the small town of Naomi, Florida are new in town. Opal’s mom has left them, and now Opal is full of worries about the future, her father, and the normal struggles of an average young person.
All those worries are set aside when she rescues a mutt from the local Winn-Dixie supermarket and takes him home to be their dog. This relationship that develops between her and her new dog, Winn-Dixie, and the preacher starts conversations, draws her father out of his shell, attracts some new and unlikely friends around town, and even teaches them all new lessons they may not have ever known before.
What I love about DiCamillo’s stories is that they are not clean nor are they clear-cut. They are never simple and easy. They are messy. They are real. They deal with real issues that young people (and adults) encounter in life. There’s no way to totally avoid pain, loss, disappointment, grief, so instead of imagining a world that those things don’t exist in, DiCamillo faces them and speaks to them to de-mystify them and draws people to talk about them together. Talking about something that is going on helps expose the feelings underneath that are hiding. Everyone has these feelings. Everyone has different responses. Just because you don’t talk about your feelings, doesn’t mean they are not there. Talking about those feelings with others helps you and them.
This was an excellent book! It is a great primer to everything else Ms. DiCamillo has written. It is not even my favorite book of hers, but it is well worth your time, especially if you have a little one in your family that might benefit from it. Draw in a loved one and read this one together.