Friday, April 22, 2011

Because of Winn-Dixie

by Kate Di Camillo
This is a touching story about sorrow and joy, about disappointment and hope, about denial and acceptance.  This is India Opal Buloni’s story.
India Opal was a ten-year-old girl that recently moved to Naomi, Florida.  Her life changed when she went to the grocery store to buy a box of macaroni and cheese, white rice, and two tomatoes.  She came back with a dog.  She decided to name the dog, “Winn-Dixie” because that was the first name to pop in her head, of course that is the name of the grocery store. 
Opal’s mother had abandoned her as a child and her father put in many hours as a preacher.  So, Opal referred to her father as “the Preacher.”  She is able to convince her father that they should adopt this stray dog.  “Daddy, do you know how you always tell me that we should help those less fortunate than ourselves?”  “Well, I found a Less Fortunate at the grocery store.”  A typical ten-year-old who knows how to manipulate an adults words to her own benefit. 
The Preacher agrees to let Opal keep the dog.  Winn-Dixie is the key for Opal moving forward in her life as she tries to overcome the fact that her mother was an alcoholic, that she left Opal and her father.  She has feelings of being unworthy and insecure.  As a result of her relationship with Winn-Dixie, Opal gains the courage to ask her father about her mother.  He agrees to tell her ten things and Opal holds on to each word as she tries to come to terms with whom her mother is and why she left.  She is also trying to keep her mother alive in her memory.
Winn-Dixie’s loveable, charismatic nature helps Opal make friends with some unlikely people including the local “witch” and an ex-convict that runs a pet store.  She also meets people from the church and community.  Many of these characters are also on a journey to healing as well, as they have all dealt with love and loss.   Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal and the other characters are joined together.  They are able to learn lessons about holding on, and letting go, about knowing when to listen and when to share.  They develop a friendship that helps them move forward with their lives and accept where they are in their lives.  The most important relationship that was reestablished was Opal’s with her father.  Together, they are able to share their sorrow and disappointments about Opal’s mother. 
Di Camillo uses first person narrative and this style of writing speaks directly to the reader.  She has carefully crafted the characters and makes us feel the emotions they are experiencing.  Especially at the end when Opal accuses her dad of giving up on looking for Winn-Dixie and her mother.  Opal says, “You always give up!  You’re always pulling your head inside your stupid old turtle shell.  I bet you didn’t even go out looking for my mama when she left.  I bet you just let her run off, too.” 
Di Camillo’s story Because of Winn Dixie parallels her own life.  After reading The Journey of Edward Tulane and Great Joy, I am beginning to see that she writes from her heart.  There is a sense of loneliness and hope in her work.  In an interview by Stacy Cochran she reveals that writing has been therapeutic for her.  It was after writing The Journey of Edward Tulane that she was able to begin to open up her own heart as well.  She states that The Journey of Edward Tulane was a “Gift” for her.  Here is an interview with Kate Di Camillo as she shares about her craft as a writer.

Di Camillo tells a moving, heartfelt story, but she also addresses socially sensitive issues that many children deal with every day.  This story includes alcoholism, prejudice, the elderly, death, and single-parent families. 
Kate Di Camillo’s Because of Winn Dixie is a Newberry Honor book.  This book was also made into a movie.  This is an excellent book that many children will enjoy and connect with.

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