Posts tagged father and daughter stories

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: A flawless work of fiction.

Because of Winn DixieBecause of Winn Dixie

Middle Reader

Ages 7 to 12

By Kate DiCamillo

182 pages

Candlewick

2000

2001 Newbury Honor Book

 

 

Kate DiCamillo is an exceedingly gifted storyteller and a truly talented writer. She uses her mastery to create distinctively memorable books with vivid, natural characters that come to feel like friends. She’s penned picture books, novels and books for middle readers. DiCamillo received a 2001 Newbury Honor for Because of Winn Dixie, her first book. Additionally, she won the 2004 Newbury Medal for The Tale of Despereaux and the 2014 Newbury Medal for Flora and Ulysses. She was also chosen to be the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the 2014-2015 term.

The first time I read Because of Winn Dixie it was in one sitting. I have since read it at least three more times and each time I’ve felt that gratifying wave of exhilaration that comes from reading an incredibly special book. There’s a magical quality imbued in her words and a comfort to her stories. It’s difficult to put into words (truly, I’ve been trying for days to capture this properly) how DiCamillo weaves a story that so quickly and seamlessly pulls readers in.

Because of Winn Dixie is told from the perspective of 10-year-old India Opal Buloni. Her smart, sweet, eager, vulnerable and bold voice feels absolutely authentic and never simplified or insufficient. Readers will identify with her worries, cheer for her efforts, and delight in her accomplishments. While it’s clear that a ten year old is telling the story—the writing is simple and direct—her thoughts, feelings and observations are familiar and universal. She’s just trying make all the pieces in her world fit together as comfortably as possible.

Opal, as she’s called, has recently moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, “the preacher.” She’s having trouble adjusting; she had to leave her school and her friends and she’s been thinking a lot about her mother, who left when she was just three. But things begin to change for the better when Opal meets an extraordinary stray dog.

Anyone who has ever loved a dog can’t help but fall in love with Winn Dixie: an energetic mutt who becomes a friend to all, who smiles when he’s happy and sometimes smiles so big it causes him to sneeze. This exceptional dog captivates all who encounter him—characters in the story as well as readers of the book.

Opal first encounters the dirty, lanky stray in a Winn Dixie Supermarket—he is wreaking havoc in the produce section and causing the manager to have a conniption. The large, homely dog seems to be having the time of his life running through the store. He rounds a corner and skids to a stop in front Opal. Then, while looking right at her, he smiles wide, showing all his teeth, and wags his tail like crazy. When the frazzled manager mentions calling the dog pound, Opal suddenly claims the troublemaker as her own, and names him Winn Dixie. (Incidentally, Winn Dixie is my second favorite supermarket name, after Piggly Wiggly.)

The immediate bond between Opal and Winn Dixie is palpable. Opal’s urgency and desire to keep this dog is plain and she knows she must proceed with caution in convincing the preacher.

The preacher loves his daughter but he uses his work to keep from facing the reality of his life: that his wife is never coming back and that raising his daughter alone means also including her in his life.

Opal explains to the preacher that she’d encountered a “Less Fortunate” in need of a home. When he learns that the “Less Fortunate” is a stray dog, he tells Opal that she doesn’t need a dog but Opal counters that this dog needs her. The preacher’s resolve is no match for Winn Dixie’s broad smile and happy sneezes. The stray found a home and Opal found a friend and, more importantly, an ally.

With her mama gone, her friends in another city and her father always “preaching or thinking about preaching or getting ready to preach,” Opal yearned for someone who would just listen to her, and Winn Dixie was able to fill that void. Not only was he a great listener, he also seemed to consider what Opal was saying before “responding.” Right away Opal starts talking to Winn Dixie about everything, and talking to him gives her confidence.

Because of her talks with Winn Dixie, Opal finds the courage to ask the preacher about her absent mother. “I’ve been talking to Winn Dixie and he agreed with me that, since I’m ten years old, you should tell me ten things about my mama. Just ten things, that’s all.”

The preacher supplies Opal with ten facts about her mother—some kind, some unpleasant, but all true. And with that exchange Opal makes a tiny crack in the preacher’s protective shell, a crack that eventually becomes an entrance into a whole new relationship with her father.

Because of Winn Dixie, Opal begins to explore her new town and the people who inhabit it. She starts at the pet store. There she meets Otis, the man who runs the shop. Winn Dixie is starting to look like a proper well-loved dog and he needs a collar and a leash but Opal has no money. She quickly strikes a deal with Otis: she’ll sweep and clean the store every day to work off the cost of the items.

Ms. Franny, the librarian, suffers quite a fright when she mistakes Winn Dixie for a bear. Years before, she’d had a bear walk right into the library and steal a book from her and she’s been afraid of a recurrence ever since. Opal invites Winn Dixie inside to put Ms. Franny at ease. When Winn Dixie smiles wide at Ms. Franny and rests his head in her lap, the three are fast friends.

When Winn Dixie runs into the overgrown, tangled yard of “the witch,” Opal has no choice but to follow. There in the yard she finds Gloria Dump feeding peanut-butter sandwiches to an ecstatic Winn Dixie. “You can always trust a dog that likes peanut-butter.” The elderly, mostly blind woman becomes Opal’s newest friend.

One day, while at the pet store, Opal discovers that Otis had been in prison. Her immediate reaction is to be frightened, but Otis isn’t scary. He’s kindhearted and he takes excellent care of the animals. Early in the morning, before the store opens, he takes all the animals out of their cages and plays his guitar for them. The animals sit transfixed, like stone statues, under the spell of Otis’ alluring music. Opal can’t reconcile the seeming contradiction of an ex-con who is a good and kind person.

While having lunch with Gloria, she poses the question; “Do you think I should be afraid of him?. . . For doing bad things? For being in jail?” Gloria Dump says not a word and leads Opal to the very back of her yard. There stands a giant tree with countless empty bottles tied to and hanging from nearly every branch. Gloria—the nicest person Opal knows—explains that the bottles represent all the bad things she’s ever done and that mistakes are a part of being human.

Each new friend Opal makes shares stories of love, loss, adventure and sadness; these enchanting gems nestled amongst Opal’s frank narrative come together in a beautiful tapestry. With each new friend Opal learns something new about the people around her, about herself and about the world. She learns that every person faces struggles and one may never know what sadness and pain another person is harboring. And she learns that good friends boost each other up and help guide your way; they make the hard times in life a little bit easier and the good times in life even better.

Because of Winn Dixie is a remarkable book, one that I never wanted to end and one I know I will read again and again. Gift it to all the children you know, read it for yourself even if you do not have children, or read it aloud to your whole family.

 

View the book.

IndieBound / Powell’s / Amazon

Advertisements

Comments (4) »

The Van Gogh Cafe: A captivating read for all ages.

The Van Gogh Cafe

 

Middle Reader

Ages 4 and up (Explained below)

By Cynthia Rylant

Not Illustrated

64 pages

Harcourt Brace

1995

 

This is one of those rare books that is truly appropriate for almost all ages. Though there are no illustrations, it can still capture the attention of your little ones. If your child can sit for 30 minutes to be read to, you could easily get through the whole book.  A child who can read on his or her own will breeze through it. And I imagine read it again and again, as I have. I re-read it to write this review. Not because I needed to be reminded how wonderful it is but because I have tea steeping and time to kill and I can’t not read this book if it’s in my hands.

For the record, the only connection to Van Gogh is the name. The artist makes no appearances in this book.

The opening paragraph starts:

“The Van Gogh Café sits on Main Street in Flowers, Kansas, and the building it is in was once a theater, which may be the reason for its magic. And it’s true, the café is magical. All kinds of interesting things happen here.”

For instance, the theater is struck by lightning one day and the food starts cooking itself. And it does so perfectly. Marc, the owner, doesn’t immediately notice because he has been spending every moment of his day writing poems; poems which, it’s soon realized, are accurately predicting the future. There’s a visiting possum that inspires a sad, recently widowed man to open an animal shelter. When a bus full of children caught in a surprise snow storm are brought to the café, Marc’s daughter, Clara, feeds them muffins given to the café by a glamorous woman on her way to New York City. The woman only gave Marc and Clara two muffins, but, tucked away in the refrigerator, they’ve multiplied to fourteen! The exact number of children on the bus.

Each chapter perfectly melts into the next and each introduces a new piece of magic.

There’s two points to be aware of in this book. In one chapter an old man dies in the Café while sitting by the window. It’s a very sweet and lovely story and not upsetting or jarring but it may lead to a discussion about death with your little listener. In the following chapter, intruders try to capture a seagull living on the roof, which they believe to be an angel. The idea of intruders could be scary to younger children. However, since these 2 chapters are back to back, you could easily skip them without your listener ever knowing.

Having said that, let me now say this: I have always believed that opening a difficult discussion with your child is much easier to deal with when you’re discussing a fictional character than it is when these things occur in real life. See this post.

 

View on Amazon

Comments (3) »

I love kids books

Children's books. My kids, Max and Calvin. Random thoughts connected to books and my kids.

The Belugas are Watching

...as we write, draw, and blog.

Children's Books Heal

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. -- Margaret Mead

Pretty Books

Fiction, Young Adult and Children's Books & Reviews

Design of the Picture Book

the intersection of graphic design + picture books

David Gaughran

Let's Get Digital

BookPeople's Blog

Austin's largest independent bookstore since 1970 - 603 N. Lamar Blvd.

The Librarian Who Doesn't Say Shhh!

Opening books to open minds.

The Book Wars

💕📚💕

This Kid Reviews Books

A Place for Kids and Grown-Ups to Discover Books

Kid Lit Reviews

Honest, Thoughtful Reviews

Loren Long

children’s book illustrator and author

Creative Grove Artist & Designer Market

artist and community festivals in the public space held from 2009 - 2014

Delightful Children's Books

Find a book to delight a child.

Book Blogger Directory

The Big Blog of Book Blogs

Nerdy Book Club

A community of readers

Sommer Reading

A Blog About Books

educating alice

monica edinger, teacher and reader of children's literature

Bobs Books Blog

Childrens and Young Adult Book Reviews by Bob Docherty

Random Acts of Reading

reviews, raves and a random assortment of book buzz

children's books for grown-ups

Natasha Worswick's blog

Watch. Connect. Read.

Children's Book Reviews

Book-A-Day Almanac

Children's Book Reviews

100 Scope Notes

Children's Lit

%d bloggers like this: