It's no secret I'm a huge Kate DiCamillo fan. I recently chose this young adult novel off my own bookshelves to share with my kids for our weekly home school read-aloud book. I remembered the general gist of the story and that I enjoyed it, but I didn't realize how touched I would be by sharing this book with my two kids, and how surprised I'd be by the writing.
Because of Winn-Dixie (BOWD) is a story about a young girl named Opal, a PK (that's preacher's kid) who has just moved to a new sleepy Florida town. She's kind, lonely for her mama who has left the family, and on the lookout for friends. She meets a curious stray dog in the middle of the local Winn-Dixie supermarket and the two become inseparable. As the hot summer lingers on, Opal befriends an elderly librarian, a blind woman with bottles hanging from her tree, an ex-prisoner who plays music for his pet shop friends, and a little girl named Sweetie Pie. What happens with this raggle-taggle group is worth the read, and a hint? A few tears, too.
Something DiCamillo has always been spectacular at is creating characters that are so magical and yet so normal, with a lot of depth, in such few pages. She's a master at child-like description, and the situations and relational conflict that comes up in BOWD are simple enough for children to grasp the meaning, and deep enough for the adult reader to pause and grapple with. I would like to compare DiCamillo as the Marilynne Robinson (author of Gilead, pulitzer prize winner) of the children's book world. Their books have much in common, though they write for completely different audiences; both are masters of the word.
The story has already been made into a movie though I can't vouch for it--I haven't seen it yet--but I hope to watch it with the kids soon. Lukka loved this story so much that he listened to the entire book a second time on audio during his quiet time.
When a kid wants to listen to the same story again and again? That's the mark of a classic.