Monday, November 05, 2007

Because of Winn Dixie

"The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down."

-Gordon Korman, No More Dead Dogs

Because of Winn Dixie was published in 2000-the same year as No More Dead Dogs. It won the Newbery Honor the following year, so the cover (with the dog) and the silver sticker (as much as I would like to say it should have been gold, I can't because Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder is terrific, and 2001 was a standout year. To have your first novel named as a Newbery Honor is an amazing feat.) wasn't generated until then. Unfortunately, this means that Because of Winn Dixie wasn't available in Wallace Wallace's library (that is, if Wallace Wallace was a real person). Too bad for Wallace, but great for everyone else. If you or your child adore dogs but don't want to go through the manipulations of Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows at this time (great books, but emotionally over the top!), you'll love Because of Winn Dixie.

(Here's where I make a little PSA about Newbery books. Have you ever rushed to the library or bookstore after learning of the announcement of the Newbery/Caldecott/etc awards? Can't find them, right? Newberys/Caldecotts can be surprises, and the library might not have ordered the book when it was published. This happened last year with The Higher Power of Lucky, which received small publicity upon publication.

The publisher then regenerates new covers for the books, complete with the insignia. Libraries that order copies of the winning books must wait until these covers are finished.

If you're looking in a bookstore, the bookstore usually removes its copies. The manager then order new copies of the books, complete with the insignia. With literally hundreds upon hundreds of libraries and bookstores ordering copies of the book(s), you can imagine that many covers need to be created.)

But back to Because of Winn Dixie.

I have to say that, hands down, this is one of the most wonderful and endearing books I have ever read. India Opal Buloni is one of the best characters ever created in modern children's literature. She doesn't have an easy life, however; she's new in town and her mother left the family some time ago. It's just India and her father, a nondenominational preacher, in their mobile home. It's also the summer, so meeting new kids is difficult.

It all started on an ordinary day:

"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."

India rescues the dog (who was hanging around the inside of a Winn Dixie supermarket)from an apoplectic manager and convinces her father to let her keep him (named after Winn Dixie).

Through Winn Dixie's amiable nature, India meets the various inhabitants of her small Florida town. Her new acquaintances range from a dog-obsessed five year old girl, the town librarian (who tells terrific stories), a reclusive pet store owner, an elderly African-American woman, and a seemingly snobbish girl who is trying to mask a painful loss.

In a heart stopping climax, India and her father come to terms with loss, letting go, and never giving up. I've reread this gem many times, and every time, my heart skips a beat at this scene. Magnificently written, and with a joyous ending.

Not only is Because of Winn Dixie beautifully written, it also includes genuinely positive portrayals of small town Southern life (there are your requisite "interesting" characters), father-daughter relationships, and Christianity (Opal's father is a preacher). Religion is not the driving force of the story, but the positive aspects of Christianity-community, forgiveness, and care for your neighbors-are subtle yet significant. A definite joy and "feel good" read.

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