DiCamillo, K. (2000). Because of Winn-Dixie. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Synopsis: What do you do when you find a dog in a grocery store? Keep it of course! India Opal Buloni, who is a loner herself, can't help but taking this strange lonesome dog home. Opal, a preacher's daughter, feels alone in her new home a small town in Florida. Lonely and searching for friendship, Opal finds this stray dog as an answer to her prayers. India Opal names the stray dog, Winn Dixie, from the grocery store incident. Winn Dixie is full of personality and capable of smiling. He helps Opal make friends as well as healing the heartache found in many Opal's new friends. This plucky young girl searches for answers in her life. She cannot understand why her mother left when Opal was a baby. Throughout the summer, Opal meets many new friends like Gloria Dump the local witch, Miss Franny Block the eccentric librarian, Amanda whose face is shaped like a prune, Otis the pet shop manager and an ex-convict, and the Dewberry Boys. She realizes that each person has a past filled with heartache. Winn Dixie learns to deal with his own fears through the help of India Opal. In the end, Opal learns to trust in her new friends all "because of Winn Dixie".
Evaluation: Kate DiCamillo is an exceptional author. She creates well-developed characters. Set in a southern Florida town, DiCamillo creates a vivid setting by describing the moss covered trees, the heat of the summer, and the unexpected thunderstorms. India Opal could be a child found in any small town. Dealing with divorce, death, alcoholism and loneliness are themes commonly found in today's world. Each issue is presented in a sensitive and gentle manner that allows readers to easily understand and be receptive to each. DiCamillo presents each character in a positive manner without stereotypes. Opal is willing to make friends with many different personalities which will encourage children to accept the differences of others. Many children have one parent families in today's society; Opal portrays a positive attitude given her home situation. Teachers are likely to use this text as a read aloud for years to come. This heart-felt story can be used to stimulate discussions that help students develop empathy. Students ages 9-14 will enjoy this instant classic.