India Opal Buloni, called Opal by the people who know her best, thought love walked out on her when her mother left seven years ago. Ever since, this young girl has waited for her mother's return, questioning her father about this woman, now a stranger, so that she would recognize her when she came back. But in waiting, the heroine of Kate DiCamillo's heartfelt debut story, Because of Winn-Dixie, learns valuable lessons about friendship, love, and understanding.
The summer ten-year-old Opal and her father move to Naomi, Florida, is the same summer Opal adopts Winn-Dixie, the scrappy dog abandoned in the town grocery store. Her canine pal, with a lively spirit matching its new owner, accompanies Opal as she meets new people. One afternoon Winn-Dixie wanders off, and Opal finds her dog snacking on peanut butter at the house of the woman deemed a witch by Opal's bothersome playmates. To her surprise, this "witch" is actually Gloria Dump who has wrinkly old skin and wears a big floppy hat adorned with printed flowers. In their regular visits, Opal reads Gone with the Wind to Gloria, whose eyes have weakened with age, and tells her about her latest adventures. In turn, this "witch" acts as a mother-figure to Opal, teaching her about being tolerant of others and their mistakes.
Opal also befriends the very wealthy librarian Miss Franny Block, who shares great stories about her past, including a tale about her great-grandfather, whose family members died while he fought for the South in the Civil War. Grief-stricken after his return from battle, he decided he wanted to live the remainder of his life filled with sweetness. Thus, he invented Littmus Lozenge candies that tasted like a combination of rootbeer and strawberry with a secret ingredient mixed in -- sorrow. In Because of Winn-Dixie, these candies symbolize that even though life sometimes deals people a bit of sadness, there is always so much to appreciate.
This lesson initially escapes Opal, as she bemoans the loss of her mother. But over time, Opal makes new friends, and her days become increasingly sweet. She finds charm in quiet Otis, a former jailbird and now pet-shop worker whose lyrical music touches all of the animals in the shop. She reaches out to the pinch-faced Amanda who has experienced a deep tragedy at a young age. And she learns to tolerate the bothersome Dewberry brothers who tease her (as many boys do when they have fond feelings toward a girl).
Enveloped by the security that her new community brings, Opal finally appreciates life's treasures and begins to accept that her mother is never coming back. By the end of Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal truly understands Gloria has been telling her all along: "...[Y]ou can't hold on to anything. ...[Y]ou can only love what you've got while you've got it." The spirit of DiCamillo's delightful story about Opal echoes long after the last page has been read.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
DiCamillo's debut novel, a 2001 Newbery Honor Book, percolates with heartfelt emotion and eccentric Southern color as superbly performed by Tony Award-winning actress Jones. Ten-year-old Opal, lonely in the Florida town where she has just moved with her preacher father, instantly takes a shine to a scraggly stray dog she encounters in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket. The pooch, named for their meeting place, becomes a trusted companion with whom Opal can share her thoughts and fears, and her hurt, confused feelings about the mother who left the family when Opal was three. Winn-Dixie is soon helping Opal in other ways, too. The dog's "smile" and sweet temperament act as ice breakers that allow Opal to meet a whole new group of friends who grow to be an unusual extended family. Jones imbues her depiction of Opal with a tone of youthful, hopeful wonder and skillfully transforms her voice to distinguish the other older, life-weathered characters. A Tennessee native, she never sounds hokey as she adopts a Southern accent, and she effortlessly slips into a compelling storytelling rhythm. This is a top-notch treatment of an award-winning tale. Ages 8-up. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Imagine naming a dog "Winn-Dixie" after the grocery store. Your own name causes kids to mock you "Lunch Meat!" That partly describes India Opal Buloni, a preacher's daughter, who tells us about her first summer in Naomi, Florida. Opal adopts the lovable, mangy dog whose personality changes her life and the lives of the quirky characters in this rural community. The kids think Gloria Dump is a witch but Opal discovers a kind, wrinkled old lady with bad eyesight who wins her friendship when she says, "Since I don't see so well, why don't you tell me everything about yourself so I can see you with my heart." Opal couldn't be happier. "I'd been waiting for a long time to tell some person everything about me, I did." A splendid story with heart, humor and hope. This is Newbery quality. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
The quick beginning, an essential feature of well-written children's books, carries Because of Winn-Dixie forward quite effectively. The stage is set in the first sentence: "My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes, and I came back with a dog." Ten-year-old Opal then proceeds to tell the funny story of a stray dog found in the produce department of the Winn-Dixie grocery store, where she calls him as if he were her own in order to save him from the pound. Because of Winn-Dixie is indeed a dog story, but it is also the story of a child, lonely yet resourceful, who has just recently moved to Naomi, Florida, with her father. It is the story of a motherless child, who longs for the love and comfort that a mother could provide. It is the story of a character finding her way in the world, a character seemingly tentative, yet as starkly defined as her red hair and the big, ugly, smiling stray dog she takes home, washes, and makes her own. And it is the story of Opal's developing friendships with distinctive, well-drawn charactersold Gloria Dump, who is almost blind; the librarian, Miss Franny Block; shy Otis at the pet storeencounters made possible, one way or another, because of the dog, Winn-Dixie. In twenty-six short chapters, DiCamillo has crafted a fine, economical story told in the authentic voice of a child, using regional language and vivid description in a clear, straightforward way. There is immediacy of feeling in this book, perfectly expressing the secret inner life that every child knows. Because of her resourcefulness, demonstrated in the openingchapter and throughout the book at every turn, Opal develops and grows as a character, in both her inner and her outer life. All of this is accomplished through a story worth telling. Children will enjoy Opal's abiding humor and Winn-Dixie's disarming and endearing ways, and the funny and important things that happen when the two of them get together. 2000, Candlewick, $15.99. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Kathie Krieger Cerra The Five Owls, November/December 2000 (Vol. 15 No. 2)
Esme R. Codell
This complicated and wonderful story is not so much about a dog as it is about friendship and loving what you got while you got it.
Esmé Raji Codell
This complicated and wonderful story is not so much about a dog as it is about friendship and loving what you got while you got it.
A 10-year old girl learns to adjust to a strange town, makes some fascinating friends, and fills the empty space in her heart thanks to a big old stray dog in this lyrical, moving, and enchanting book by a fresh new voice. India Opal's mama left when she was only three, and her father, "the preacher," is absorbed in his own loss and in the work of his new ministry at the Open-Arms Baptist Church of Naomi [Florida]. Enter Winn-Dixie, a dog who "looked like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain." But, this dog had a grin "so big that it made him sneeze." And, as Opal says, "It's hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor." Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal meets Miss Franny Block, an elderly lady whose papa built her a library of her own when she was just a little girl and she's been the librarian ever since. Then, there's nearly blind Gloria Dump, who hangs the empty bottle wreckage of her past from the mistake tree in her back yard. And, Otis, oh yes, Otis, whose music charms the gerbils, rabbits, snakes and lizards he's let out of their cages in the pet store. Brush strokes of magical realism elevate this beyond a simple story of friendship to a well-crafted tale of community and fellowship, of sweetness, sorrow and hope. And, it's funny, too. A real gem. (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher
"Take one disarmingly engaging protagonist and put her in the company of a tenderly rendered canine and you've got yourself a recipe for the best kind of down-home literary treat. Kate DiCamillo's voice in Because of Winn-Dixie should carry from the steamy, sultry pockets of Florida clear across the miles to enchant young readers everywhere." — Karen Hesse, author of the Newbery-award winner Out of the Dust
Read an Excerpt
My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog. This is what happened: I walked into the produce section of the Winn-Dixie grocery store to pick out my two tomatoes and I almost bumped right into the store manager. He was standing there all red-faced, screaming and waving his arms around.
"Who let a dog in here?" he kept on shouting. "Who let a dirty dog in here?"
At first, I didn’t see a dog. There were just a lot of vegetables rolling around on the floor, tomatoes and onions and green peppers. And there was what seemed like a whole army of Winn-Dixie employees running around waving their arms just the same way the store manager was waving his.
And then the dog came running around the corner. He was a big dog. And ugly. And he looked like he was having a real good time. His tongue was hanging out and he was wagging his tail. He skidded to a stop and smiled right at me. I had never before in my life seen a dog smile, but that is what he did. He pulled back his lips and showed me all his teeth. Then he wagged his tail so hard that he knocked some oranges off a display, and they went rolling everywhere, mixing in with the tomatoes and onions and green peppers.
The manager screamed, "Somebody grab that dog!"
The dog went running over to the manager, wagging his tail and smiling. He stood up on his hind legs. You could tell that all he wanted to do was get face to face with the manager and thank him for the good time he was having in the produce department, but somehow he ended up knocking the manager over. And the manager must have been having a bad day, because lying there on the floor, right in front of everybody, he started to cry. The dog leaned over him, real concerned, and licked his face.
"Please," said the manager. "Somebody call the pound."
"Wait a minute!" I hollered. "That’s my dog. Don’t call the pound."
All the Winn-Dixie employees turned around and looked at me, and I knew I had done something big. And maybe stupid, too. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t let that dog go to the pound.
"Here, boy," I said.
The dog stopped licking the manager’s face and put his ears up in the air and looked at me, like he was trying to remember where he knew me from.
"Here, boy," I said again. And then I figured that the dog was probably just like everybody else in the world, that he would want to get called by a name, only I didn’t know what his name was, so I just said the first thing that came into my head. I said, "Here, Winn-Dixie."
And that dog came trotting over to me just like he had been doing it his whole life.
The manager sat up and gave me a hard stare, like maybe I was making fun of him.
"It’s his name," I said. "Honest."
The manager said, "Don’t you know not to bring a dog into a grocery store?"
"Yes sir," I told him. "He got in by mistake. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.
"Come on, Winn-Dixie," I said to the dog.
I started walking and he followed along behind me as I went out of the produce department and down the cereal aisle and past all the cashiers and out the door.
Once we were safe outside, I checked him over real careful and he didn’t look that good. He was big, but skinny; you could see his ribs. And there were bald patches all over him, places where he didn’t have any fur at all. Mostly, he looked like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain.
"You’re a mess," I told him. "I bet you don’t belong to anybody."
He smiled at me. He did that thing again, where he pulled back his lips and showed me his teeth. He smiled so big that it made him sneeze. It was like he was saying, "I know I’m a mess. Isn’t it funny?"
It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor.
"Come on," I told him. "Let’s see what the preacher has to say about you."
And the two of us, me and Winn-Dixie, started walking home.
Because of Winn-Dixie. Copyright (c) 2000 Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.