India Opal Buloni lives in a small town in Florida with her father, who is a preacher in the local church. She's a lonely girl who hasn't made many friends since moving to town. When she finds a stray dog in the grocery store, she decides to take him home and save him from a trip to the pound. As they spend their summer together, Winn-Dixie ends up saving Opal too.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is a children's novel written at the early fourth grade reading level. I recently spent several months reading and discussing the book with a group of second grade students. We all enjoyed this story of a girl and her dog. It actually explores a lot of deeper topics than I had expected. Opal's mother left when she was young, so there's a large emphasis on her wanting to know more about her mother. There is also a lot about her befriending various characters in the town, including the librarian, pet store clerk and a woman the local boys think is a witch.
Some of the themes the book explores include friendship, forgiveness, courage and compassion. I expect some aspects of the story went a bit over my group's head since they are on the young side for this book. But the main ideas that you should be kind and compassionate to others, and that you should judge people by who they are now, not by what they've done in the past seemed to resonate with the kids. They also liked the many funny scenes with Winn-Dixie and some of the other characters.
Overall, I'd recommend Because of Winn-Dixie to elementary kids who would like a fun book that has a bit more depth. Kids who are able to pay attention and comprehend at a higher level will get more out of it, but younger readers will still enjoy the story. There are some sad parts, but in the end, it is an uplifting book.
My Rating: 4/5
This review was written based on a copy of Because of Winn-Dixie that I borrowed from my daughter's teacher.