What can I say about “Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo that hasn’t already been said? It’s a classic. It’s a Newberry Honor Winner. Need I say more? DiCamillo writes beautifully and manages to capture character emotions with few words. She teaches about friendship, and how easy building friendships can be - once you drop your preconceived notions. DiCamillo does a fantastic job at teaching the reader valuable lessons about the character of people, and children (along with adults) can learn important truths about how people should be treated.
India Opal, or Opal, has just moved to a new town in Florida with her father, a preacher. She struggles to make friends, but everything changes when she finds Winn-Dixie, a lovable smiling dog. Friendships form easily after that, even with the people she had previously written-off or judged. I kept expecting the story to take different turns than it did, and while it didn’t always go the way I wanted it to, I never closed the book feeling disappointed or letdown. It truly is a classic, and I enjoyed investing my time in the character of Opal.
There are several deep themes throughout this novel.
Loss: Opal’s mother left the family when Opal was very young, and she consistently wonders whether her mother will come back, and why she left in the first place.
Addiction: Opal’s mother was a heavy drinker, as was another character in the book (Gloria Dump). Alcohol, and the harm it can cause, is mentioned a few times throughout the novel.
Judgment: The town that Opal lives in has placed a stigma on Otis, a pet shop worker, and people label him as being a “retard”. He has also been to jail, and this is mentioned a few times throughout the book. This issue of judging someone before you get to know them is addressed many times throughout Opal’s story, and the characters learn valuable lessons in who people truly are.
Recommended Age Group?
Due to the themes and language in the book (see below), you probably wouldn’t want to read this book to children younger than 9. Most of the time, this book is read in grade 3 or 4 as a class novel study. Grade 4 might be a better option, but ultimately, you know your students best.
If you’re going to be reading this as a whole-class novel, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some of the language is outdated and your students may be slightly alarmed at the use of this language. The word “retarded” is mentioned a couple times throughout the novel, as well as “idiot”. However, the use of this language would create a great opportunity for you discuss how we can react with a teachable and kind spirit, when we hear others use these words. All in all, this book is definitely classroom approved, and offers many teachable moments.