Genre: middle grade fiction
Length: 182 pages
Setting: Naomi, Florida, probably around the 1970s
Interest: I needed another audio book for a trip to a gymnastics meet. This was a shorter trip, so I needed a shorter book. I knew Kate DiCamillo’s work (we’ve enjoyed her Mercy Watson stories for the picture book age, Bink and Gollie stories for the short chapter book age, and The Tale of Despereaux) so I felt this was likely to be a good book as well.
Summary: Opal, a ten-year old girl, has just moved to Naomi so her father, the preacher, could preach at a new church. She’s feeling kind of lonely since she hasn’t made any friends yet, and she’s also at the age that she’s really starting to miss her mother, who left when she was three. One day, she’s at the grocery store and sees a dog running around the produce department. She adopts the dog (and convinces her dad to let her keep him), names him Winn-Dixie, and life changes for her. Winn-Dixie doesn’t like to be left alone, so she takes him everywhere with her. He also leads to many new friends, including Miss Fanny Block, the librarian, the nearly blind Gloria Dump, Otis, who works at the pet store, five-year old Sweetie Pie Thomas, the annoying Dewberry brothers, and pinch-faced Amanda Wilkinson. At the end, Opal decides to have a party with all her new friends. She nearly loses Winn-Dixie in a thunderstorm (he is pathologically afraid of thunder), but it all comes right in the end.
Final thoughts: This is a great book. DiCamillo has captured that insecurity of being a kid in a new place and not quite sure who’s going to be a friend with an overlay of humor that any child (and most adults) will enjoy. Opal doesn’t have a mother to help her navigate the newness, so Winn-Dixie acts as her courage and companion throughout her adventures. Opal finds an odd assortment of friends, but she’s able to get their story and share it with the reader. I also loved the relationship between Winn-Dixie and Opal and how she cared for him so carefully. Winn-Dixie isn’t a perfect dog (although he has a great smile and a great sense for good people) and Opal nearly loses him. She’s devastated that Winn-Dixie is lost, but luckily, he’s found before the end of the story. Opal is also really missing her mother and trying to learn more about her. Dicamillo presents the reluctance of the father to talk about the mother and the desire of Opal to hear about the mother in a completely realistic manner. I could go on about all the parts I just loved in this book. Highly recommended.
Awards won: Josette Frank Award in 2000, Newbery Honor Award in 2001
Title comes from: All of the excitement and friendships Opal experienced that summer occurred because of Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie got his name because he was found at a Winn-Dixie grocery story.
Reading challenges fulfilled: none since this is a review of an audiobook
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