[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/1577]
BCCB Blue Ribbon Book (2000)
New York Time Notable Books - Children's Books (2000)
Parents' Choice Awards - Fiction (2000)
School Library Journal Best Books (2000)
ALA Notable Children's Book (2001)
Josette Frank Award (2001)
Newberry Honor (2001)
SEBA Book Award - Children's (2001)
As well as a slew of state awards and a mention in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up
My daddy is a good preacher and a nice man, but sometimes it's hard for me to think about him as my daddy, because he spends so much time preaching or thinking about preaching or getting ready to preach. And so, in my mind, I think of him as "the preacher."
Opal knows her daddy, the preacher, loves her, but she also knows his new church is the reason she's spending a lonely summer in a new town. Until the preacher sends her out for a box of mac n'cheese. When she gets to the Winn-Dixie, she finds the happiest dog she's ever seen frolicking and wreaking havoc in the produce section. To keep that happy dog from the pound, Opal gives him the only name she can think of in a hurry, Winn-Dixie, and takes him on home. With a dog who has a tendency to smile so big that it makes him sneeze, Opal has the courage to talk to people, including the preacher, and make some new friends.
Oh, Winn-Dixie. Anyone who's ever had a really friendly dog, especially a really friendly ugly mutt, will tell you that every outlandish and wonderful thing that happens in the book is totally possible. Well, maybe not, but having a good dog is great and Winn-Dixie is just who Opal needs to kick-start her new life in a new town. The preacher is too busy with his new church to be Opal's best friend until school starts in the fall, and Opal's mother is gone and has been for a while. The preacher doesn't like to talk about her or why she left. But once she has Winn-Dixie, Opal isn't alone anymore. She tries out her ideas on him, tells him what she wants, and pours out her heart to him in ways she probably couldn't with another human being, and Winn-Dixie just gives her his goofy smile and unconditional adoration in the way that good dogs will do. It gives her the courage to talk to the guy at the pet store (Winn-Dixie does need a collar), the woman at the library (who thinks Winn-Dixie is a bear at first glance), the town "witch" (whose yard Winn-Dixie runs into in search of peanut butter), and various kids from her daddy's church who are drawn to Winn-Dixie or make fun of her about him. And Winn-Dixie gives Opal the courage to talk to the preacher about her mother. When Winn-Dixie is done working his magic, Opal has a whole cadre of people who love her.
I wouldn't say that religion plays a huge role in Because of Winn-Dixie, at least not explicitly. Opal uses tenets of what her father teaches her both to her advantage and as goals to work towards. She gets to keep Winn-Dixie because he is "an unfortunate," and Christians are supposed to help the unfortunate. On the other hand, she has to be nice to pinch-faced Amanda because she not only goes to the preacher's church, but because something very sad happened to her in the past. And the preacher prays for a mouse that Winn-Dixie catches in the middle of his sermon but does not kill. :) Even though religion does not really factor into the storyline, this book is just as much about how Opal's relationship with the preacher changes as it is about a little girl and her dog. At the beginning of the book, in addition to calling her father "the preacher" in her head, Opal likens him to a turtle. He pulls his head back in his shell when things get hard to protect himself from everything, even his daughter. He's able to do that precisely because he spends so much time "preaching or thinking about preaching or getting ready to preach" (13). Throughout the course of the book, and with Winn-Dixie's help of course, the preacher learns not to shut out Opal but instead to open up to her.
Overall this is a sweet book. There's not a lot of action, but there is a lot of storytelling as Opal gets to know all of her new friends. It can be episodic at times, but it all comes together in the end.
Book source: Holy Spirit Library at Cabrini College
Thanks to Charlotte for reminding me about this book!
For folks who refuse to read dog books: This isn't Old Yeller. There are some tough moments, but nothing compared to classic "dog stories" or, you know, The Knife of Never Letting Go.