Top 100 Children’s Novels (#15)
#15 Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2) (#3)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6) (#6)(#7)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#9) (#9)(#9)(#10) – 185 points
Kate DiCamillo has, of course, written many beautiful books since Because of Winn Dixie, but this remains my all-time favorite DiCamillo story. Having reread it several times since I first read it four years ago (and not being one to reread books, for the most part), it never fails to bring me to both laughter and tears, particularly during the search for Winn Dixie. – Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton
I love Opal and the bond she forms with Winn-Dixie. I also love the crazy cast of characters. But most of all, I love how through the dog Opal finds friends and begins to understand that everyone carries some kind of baggage, and how this helps her to settle into her own place in the world. – Dr. Patricia M. Stohr-Hunt, Chair, Education Department, University of Richmond
Pinned itself right to the lining of my heart. India Opal’s exquisite longing is universal – even for those of us who had perfectly good mothers marching around our ranch houses. To belong, to be loved, to have someone who lives for you and for whom you live. Killer. – Linda Urban
Sometimes I’ll sit around and lament how there really aren’t enough books where kids live in trailers and their lives aren’t horrendous, horrible, and terrible. And what I forget is that there’s a Newbery Honor book out there that made trailer living something other than the pits. When we talk about lower income characters in children’s literature, forget not the Winn Dixie.
The plot from the publisher reads, "The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket — and comes out with a dog. With the help of her new pal, whom she names Winn-Dixie, Opal makes a variety of new, interesting friends and spends the summer collecting stories about them and thinking about her absent 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. Recalling the fiction of Harper Lee and Carson McCullers, here is a funny, poignant, and unforgettable coming-of-age novel."
I love a good How-They-Hit-It-Big story. Gives newbie authors hope, I think. Who hasn’t loved the tale of single mom Joanne Rowling scribbling Harry Potter down in coffee shops or Madeleine L’Engle getting rejected umpty-ump times? In the case of DiCamillo, this was her first big hit. In a 2004 interview with School Library Journal, DiCamillo said that, "In college [at the University of Florida], I attached myself to the idea of becoming a writer mainly because several professors told me that I had a way with words. But it wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I actually started to write. Then when I moved to Minnesota, I got a job at a book warehouse. I was assigned to the third floor, which was where all the kids’ books were. I had been writing every day by that point, and I entered into that job with, I think, a prejudice that a lot of literate adults have, which is that children’s literature is something less [than adults’]. But then I started to read the books, and I changed my mind."
According to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, "For years, Kate DiCamillo tried unsuccessfully to get her writing published. Rejected by several publishers, the manuscript for Because of Winn-Dixie languished in the offices of Candlewick Press for several months. Finally a young editorial assistant, Kara LaReau, brought it to the attention of the editor Liz Bicknell. Bicknell laughed when she read the first chapter and then cried; after finishing it, she believed it to be one of the best middle-grade novels she’d ever seen." And Bicknell knows good books.
It won a Newbery Honor in 2001, beaten only by A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.
- Read an excerpt of the book here.
- Here’s the teachers’ resource guide.
- I have no clue what this is, but it looks neat.
- Lesson plan anyone?
- And for those of you who run bookgroups for kids, I find such sites as this one (thank you, Multnomah County Library System) invaluable.
Horn Book said of it, "The story teeters on the edge of sentimentality and sometimes topples right in, but the characters are so likable, so genuine, it’s an easy flaw to forgive. All in all, this is a gentle book about good people coming together to combat loneliness and heartache–with a little canine assistance."
Said Booklist, "While some of the dialogue and the book’s "life lessons" can feel heavy-handed, readers will connect with India’s love for her pet and her open-minded, free-spirited efforts to make friends and build a community."
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books thought, "By turns funny and moving, vivid from trailer park to pet store, this will propel readers into a satisfying circle of companionship.
The New York Times agreed saying, "Because of Winn – Dixie is a poignant and delicately told story of a dog as a child’s much-needed best friend."
Not many covers out there (it only came out ten years ago, after all). There are two others aside from the original that spring prominently to mind, though. The movie one . . .
And an extra special treat . . . Chinese!
I’ve always found the movie version of this book notable because it was a realistic children’s book without any fantasy elements (or dream sequences?) that was released in theaters nationwide. Such book-to-screen adaptations are rare beasts indeed. This would also mark the second time a book on this countdown has featured Dave Matthews in a movie adaptation (the first time was when he appeared in Where the Red Fern Grows).
Filed under: Top 100 Children's Novels (2010)
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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