by Kate DiCamillo
Unconditional Recommendation: With the help of a funny stray dog, Opal makes friends in her new town.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2001)
Charming. Funny. Delightful. Heartwarming. These are all true of Because of Winn-Dixie. The candid narration of 10-year-old Opal immediately pulls you into the story and combined with a quirky mutt and many enduring themes, this book is a joy to read. I highly recommend!
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.
There are many enduring themes contained in this little story: First impressions aren’t always right impressions, giving people second chances, making friends, the beauty of human connection, the power of stories, missing people who are no longer in our lives, letting go of what we’ve lost and being able to move forward…just to name a few!
I think there could be much discussion around Gloria Dump’s tree full of bottles. Each bottle marks a ghost for Gloria—the things she’s done wrong that haunt her. We can each be haunted by our past mistakes, our past sins, but Christ died on a tree on our behalf so that we would never have to have a tree full of bottles. All of our sins were taken care of on the cross and God does not hold your sins against you. The tree full of bottles is a great illustration.
If you couldn’t tell from the book’s summary, I’ll tell you right now that this book is full of wonderful, quirky characters. And Winn-Dixie is the one that connects them all. I love that Opal befriends people of a variety of ages and walks of life. Each is so different and yet similar—no matter how different our stories may be, we are all humans and need the same basic things.
It’s a little bit of a suspenseful ending but don’t worry, it all comes together to warm your heart.
Opal’s mama was an alcoholic and Gloria Dump was once an alcoholic too and there’s some dialogue between characters about it. There’s some low-key name-calling between Opal and the two Dewberry boys.
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