I became aware of the book through previews of the movie with the same name, about five years ago. It looked like a heart-warming tale, but I didn’t think very much about it. Then I read a story co-written by its author, Kate diCamillo, and Jon Scieszka, in Guys Read: Funny Business. Scieszka, who edits the Guys Read books in a sustained effort to promote…reading, by guys, before they get too old and fall behind in school and drag the girls down, I guess, apparently chose diCamillo as his co-author for a reason. She’s very funny.
The story, “Your Note to the Author Here” consists of letters between an elementary school boy grudingly fulfilling an English assignment and an author who has other plans, made me grin and chuckle for twice as long as it took to read (because I reread it the next day). Not high art, but sometimes we wish high art was this good.
Between that and my awareness of the Winn-Dixie story, I resolved to read Kate diCamillo’s best-known (OK, to me) book at my next opportunity, if not sooner.
The good news is that reading Because of Winn-Dixie costs a Master-of-Arts recipient little effort or time.The other good news is that it does just what a novel should do: it introduces a character (India Opal Buloni), gives her a conflict (she misses her mother), and shows how she grows in response to it. Along the way, diCamillo graces us with poignant details, characters with interesting names, and bits of magic so small and ordinary, we might confuse them with raindrops.
By the end, there’s a little bit of a storm—the kind that blows things over and gets the ground wet, and the kind of collection of magical raindrops that means some pretty big magic has been falling. Opal (everybody uses her middle name) and her dog make friends left and right, back and forth, and brighten their lives a little, or a lot.
The landscape of central Florida suffers from lack of description in this story, and characters are simply, though well, drawn. Most of the details are visual, but they are sparse. This is a book that cuts to the chase, gives readers access to the good story without costing the effort usually involved. It is a book for the struggling reader, the reluctant reader, the impatient reader, strung out on IMAX and in withdrawal from Twitter, the twelve-year-old texting master, the kid who knows all the tricks on all the latest games.
I think it would also be fine for the coping dyslexic reader (short pages, widely spaced lines in my edition, under 200 pages), or any tween or early teen who might respond well to a good story, if only they could get at the meanings of rhe words. This is a special concern of mine, and I think that Because of Winn-Dixie, more than other trade books, threads this particular needle.