by Kate DiCamillo. (Candlewick, 2009. ISBN 9780763644321. Order Info.) Novel. 288 pages. Grades 3-7.
Heart-warming, touching, tender are all apt adjectives for this brief novel. Winn Dixie is a stray dog that our heroine, India Opal, finds in the midst of chaos at the Winn Dixie grocery store. Not since Shiloh have we had a literary dog so full of life and character.
Newly moved to this area of Florida with her preacher father, India Opal feels lonely and friendless. She pines for a mother she never knew who left when she was three. She knows that this unruly mutt of a dog is not going to be easy for her father to welcome into their trailer park home but the attachment to the dog is instant and mutual. To her delight, her usually preoccupied father responds to the dog and makes Winn Dixie part of his household and even part of his congregation at the Open Arms Baptist Church.
Through the dog, at first, and later through her own curiosity and friendly nature, India Opal finds friends in the community and discovers that each new friend is lonely in his or her own way. There's a moral here and the author handles it well through characters that spring to life and make you want to become part of that circle of friends in rural Florida.
Because of Winn Dixie has literary friends as well: Ruth WhiteŐs Belle PraterŐs Boy (Yearling, 1998 ISBN 9780440413721.) has the same qualities of innocence in the protagonist character. Trudy KrisherŐs Spite Fences (Laurel Leaf, 1996 ISBN 9780440220169.) has that same sense of a community of delightful misfits. Branch out or stay with the first Because of Winn Dixie. Either way itŐs a joy.
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