Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite contemporary children’s authors. Flora & Ulysses won the Newbery Medal this year so I know I’m not the only one who’s smitten. Probably most of her fans are a little younger, but I need no excuse to enjoy children’s literature. While not challenging in the same way as some adult novels, kids’ books have a charm to them I often crave. Now that my oldest niece is starting to read, it’s fun to add books to a little shelf of chapter books I have for her.
Because of Winn-Dixie is a small story about an off-beat girl who finds a good friend in a dog she rescues from a grocery store. It won a Newbery Honor in 2000 and continues to appear on school reading lists. It’s easy to see why as this is the kind of character children can sink their imaginations into.
India Opal Buloni is shopping at the local Winn-Dixie market for dinner fixings when she crosses paths with a scrappy, smelly stray dog. The dog is having fun getting chased around in the produce aisle when she decides to bring the less fortunate animal back to the Friendly Corners Trailer Park. Her father the preacher immediately softens at the sight and in one afternoon this lonely girl in a new town has found a dog to love with all her heart.
Winn-Dixie turns out to be very good at making friends. Together he and Opal acquire an odd social circle, including the librarian, a rumored witch, a 5-year-old name Sweetie Pie who follows after Opal wanting her dog, and a parrot named Gertrude. Though at times I couldn’t help thinking how improbable and convenient for the plot some scenes were, it all plays out in good humor.
Life isn’t all found dogs and quirky strangers for Opal. Her father is reluctant to talk about the mother who abandoned her, but the curious girl continues to prod, trying to know her mom even if all she has of her is her father’s soured memories. After some coaxing, he finally tells her 10 things about her mom, one for every year of Opal’s life.
I wondered if my mamma, wherever she was, had a tree full of bottles; and I wondered if I was a ghost to her, the way she sometimes seemed like a ghost to me.
DiCamillo writes the most lovable characters. After Flora & Ulysses and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I expected more of wandering adventure. Because of Winn-Dixie pleasantly surprised me with its quirks and tight focus on the small, meaningful moments that make a challenging childhood magical.