In the school where I substitute teach, there is a third grade class with a teacher by the name of Miss Tara who, in addition to being an amazing teacher, also has exquisite taste in children’s literature and loans me the books that her students are reading because she is also very generous. And it was through this, that I was able to discover the terrific story of BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE.
WINN DIXIE is the tale of ten-year-old India Opal Buloni, a newcomer to the sleepy town of Naomi, Florida where she and her father, the Preacher, have recently taken up residence. Feeling a little bit lonely with a whole summer before her and no playmates to speak of, Opal goes to the grocery store to buy a box of macaroni and finds instead, a grinning, sneezing mutt running amok in the produce section. With a bit of quick thinking, Opal claims ownership and names the dog, appropriately, Winn Dixie. After that moment, the two are inseparable.
In her friendship with Winn Dixie, Opal finds the courage to ask her father to tell her 10 things about her mother, who left her and her father when she was much younger and in leaving, also left a hollow place in Opal’s heart. An excerpt: Thinking about her was the same as the hole you keep on feeling with your tongue after you lose a tooth. Time after time, my mind kept going to that empty spot, the spot where I felt like she should be.
In her travails with Winn Dixie around town, Opal meets a host of colorful friends who help her along this journey in accepting the melancholy that goes along with the sweetness of life, like a Littmus Lozange, where there is a little bit of sorrow in every bite.
DiCamillo does a wonderful job of weaving very complex themes into a seemingly simple story, of making loss and renewal relevant to children in a gentle and heartwarming way. DiCamillo also included all the mischief and trials of childhood along with the responsibilities and rewards of pet ownership. As for Winn Dixie, he is a dog with a sense of humor and a dynamic character throughout the story, who, along with a good dose of adventure, also acts as a source of consolation for Opal and a mirror to her own disappointments in life. As a writer I was, among other things, very impressed by how much DiCamillo was able to convey in such simple language and few words, in crafting a story that is entertaining and accessible to children and also very meaningful.
As DiCamillo says herself, WINN DIXIE reads like “a hymn of praise to dogs, friendship and the South,” and I highly recommend it to readers (and writers) of all ages.