Friday, October 08, 2010

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DeCamillo, review by Susan Major-Tingey


BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DeCamillo, review by Susan Major-Tingey

Move the brothers Grimm aside, skip over saccharine rhymes and put another check in the column under realistic children’s literature to represent the well-crafted style of author Kate DiCamillo. Her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, has been awarded numerous accolades, including the coveted Newbury Book Honor and it was the inspiration for the successful movie by the same name.

Because of Winn-Dixie came to my attention when it was first released. I was browsing in a library, chatting with a librarian who recommended it as the new book that was popular with children, parents, and teachers. She said it was flying off the shelf because not only was it witty and endearing, but also it dealt with important issues like sorrow and loss without being too sad. And if that were not enough, the author has taken care to feature characters from different backgrounds and social standings without being judgmental -- an enormous plus.

Between the hard covers (which are child-friendly at 5 ½” by 7 ¼”) ten-year-old Opal goes to the supermarket for macaroni and cheese and ends up saving a mangy hound from the pound. Opals was ready for something to love and the skinny, balding, limping, smelly intruder seemed just right to her when he skids to a stop and smiles right at her. It helps that she can read his facial expressions and body language so she always knows what he is thinking. She reasons that the imperfect dog probably is just like everyone else in the world.

This story helps readers see people and animals as complex, multi-faceted individuals with weaknesses and strengths. It addresses issues that children can relate to and apply to their lives. For instance, Opal calls her father Daddy, but most of the time she thinks of him as a distracted man dedicated to his work. She describes him as a turtle that does a lot of thinking but does not relate well to the world.

All of the characters in Because of Winn-Dixie are imperfect and that’s okay because the way they deal with predicaments impacts their lives and alters relationships. One of the characters even says that she has made mistakes on the way to learning some of the most important things.

Sometimes the characters handle difficulties in a roundabout way, but it is their different responses that reveal their thoughts and feelings, their personalities, that special part of them that makes them unique. It is to the author’s credit that readers come away with empathy, wondering how they would feel in similar situations.

Opal is afraid to ask questions about her mother, who left them when she was three, but she faces her fear and finds it is not as hard as she thought. The bonus is that she realizes there are plusses to her positive action that she did not anticipate.

Opal and Winn-Dixie find that people of all ages, even people with very different backgrounds and reputations can get together to enjoy a party where Dump Punch is served and the youngest attendee contributes to the festivities by decorating the yard with pictures of dogs she had cut out of magazines. That sounds like my kind of party.

Title: Because of Winn-Dixie, Author: Kate DiCamillo, $15.99
Reviewed by Susan Major-Tingey, September 2010,
Proofread and edited by Heather Campbell
Pages: 182, ISBN #978-0-7636-0776-0, first edition 2000
Candlewick Press, 99 Dover Street, Somerville, MA 02144

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