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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo's lovely novel about 10-year-old Opal and the stray dog that changes her life, is a charming story full of quirky characters and sweet friendships. There's a melancholy veil over Opal's story, because her mother abandoned her, but that also helps her to feel empathy for friends who have experienced loss and sorrow. Whiskey, beer, and wine are mentioned because Opal's mother used to drink to excess. Gloria Dump used to drink as well -- the empties hanging from trees in her backyard represent past transgressions, including drinking -- but that's in the past and predates the time of this story. Parents should also note that the town librarian, Miss Franny, tells Opal that the Civil War was fought over slavery and "states' rights" and recommends that Opal read Gone with the Wind, a book that perpetuates racist stereotypes. On the whole, however, this novel is a heartwarming story about outcasts who find solace in friendship, and it will make every lonely kid want a dog. It was made into a film in 2005.
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What's the story?
When the narrator of BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, India Opal Buloni, takes home a stray dog she finds at the supermarket, her whole life begins to change. Opal has just moved to the small town of Naomi, Florida, with her father, a preacher who "reminded me of a turtle hiding inside its shell." Her mother abandoned them years before, and Opal feels alone and sad in her new town. One day at the supermarket, she meets a stray dog whose fur looks "like a big piece of old brown carpet that had been left out in the rain." The dog has gotten into the store and and is knocking over product displays with his wagging tale. The store manager says he's going to call the pound, so Opal saves him, telling the manager that the dog is hers and his name is Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie's adorable, silly behavior --his friendliness, his funny sneeze-smile, and the way he howls whenever he's left alone -- endears him to new friends. As Opal gets to know her new neighbors, she learns that many of them have sorrows of their own, and she takes a collection of wallflowers into her heart: the ex-con who runs the pet shop; a blind old woman who's rumored to be a witch; an elderly librarian with stories to share; a pinched-faced girl who acts superior to Opa;, and a few more children who need friends just as much as Opal does.
Is it any good?
Kate DiCamillo's lovely, short novel is full of charming, quirky characters and beautiful life lessons. Winn-Dixie becomes Opal's true friend and her reason for being. He's afraid to be alone, and so is Opal, but now they have each other, and the goofy dog helps the little girl make new friends. Readers of Because of Winn-Dixie will see how much Opal's life improves when she approaches people with an open mind and an open heart, and they'll see how much comfort she finds in realizing that she's not the only one living with sorrow. Most important, all of these feelings are couched in an amusing story with a wonderful cast of misfits.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about first impressions in Because of Winn-Dixie. What does Opal learn about looking beyond the obvious? How do Opal's opinions of the new people in her life change through the course of the story?
What makes Winn Dixie special? How does he compare with dogs in other stories you've read or watched? Why do you think stories about beloved dogs are so popular?
How does Opal's friendship with Winn-Dixie change her other relationships? If you have a pet, do you consider your pet a friend?
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