In our attempt to broaden our reading horizons this summer, I have been encouraging J to read from the Battle of the Books list for the upcoming year. She is not allowed to participate yet, but the list of books is amazing and it definitely removes us from our normal comfort zone of witches, wizards, fairy tales and princesses. The first book that we managed to read off of the list was also one that we chose for our Book/Movie club and it was a rousing success.
Our school had already read Kate DiCamillo’s Edward Tulane as a part of the One School, One Book program, so we were accustomed to her writing style. That said, I don’t think either of us were prepared for how much we loved Because of Winn-Dixie.
India Opal Buloni is a lonely little girl who has just moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, the preacher. Her mother had left them years earlier and her father is often too busy in his role as preacher to perform his role of father. One day Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket and comes out with a dog. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. This dog will manage to change her life.
In her loneliness, Opal opens up to Winn-Dixie and gathers up the courage to ask her father about her mother. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie also helps Opal make the friends that she so desperately craves. They are not exactly typical friends for a 10 year old girl, but each one helps her learn something about the world around her and about herself. First there is the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace and whose great-grandfather, Littmus W. Block, invented a candy makes you feel a touch sad. This is to help you understand about how to survive sorrow and the blending of sweetness and sadness in life (think Inside Out). Then they meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and who helps Opal learn not to judge others by what she sees. Finally there is Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar. Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her mother. But because of Winn-Dixie, or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship—and forgiveness—can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm.
J and I first started reading this book together and it was the kind of book that you start and don’t want to put down. After the first three chapters I did make her go to bed and then the next day she picked the book back up without me and finished it on her own. I think I would have enjoyed this book even more if we had been able to read it together so that I could hear her thoughts as the book went along, but I was amazed by it all on my own. This is one of those magical books where you have no idea what to expect from the story and then it just completely touches your heart.
When I asked J about her favorite part, she told me that it was when they were having a party at the end of the book and Winn-Dixie went missing. She also simply loves using the word “pathological” now because she learned the Winn-Dixie had a pathological fear of thunder storms. I have to admit, the ending of the book when she believed Winn-Dixie was missing was one of my favorite parts as well, but probably because of how much I felt Opal had grown and how she was able to let go.
We had the book/movie club meeting a few weeks ago and I was highly impressed by how well the book had captured everyone’s attention. They had really recalled a number of details and all seemed to enjoy the book. While I have read other books by Kate DiCamillo, this was the first one where I truly understood why people love her so much.
The lexile level for this book is 610 and is aimed at grades 3-5. This is one of those times where I think that the grade level is pretty accurate. Our group read it as they were all finishing 2nd grade. The biggest issue is less about whether they will actually be able to read the book on their own and more about if they are able to comprehend and appreciate the story. A great book of realistic fiction that kids really enjoy.