Because of Winn Dixie was written by Kate DiCamillo and published by Candlewick (Reprint edition, 2009). It has 182 pages. India Opal and her father have moved to Naomi, Florida, so that he can be the minister at the Open Arms Baptist Church located in an old convenience store. The story starts with Opal describing a task her dad, “the preacher,” gave her to do.  He sent her to the Winn Dixie, a store, for a box of macaroni and cheese, white rice, and two tomatoes. She came back with a dirty, smelly dog. The manager of the place where Opal and her dad are staying does not allow dogs, but an exception is made because Opal is the preacher’s daughter.

Opal’s mother deserted her and Opal’s dad when Opal was quite small. Though Opal’s father loves Opal, she is feeling disconnected from him and feeling the absence of a mother. The dog which Opal names Winn Dixie becomes her close friend and together they discover the small Florida town. The dog helps Opal make other friends.

Opal and Winn Dixie meet the librarian, Franny Block, and Otis and Gloria Dump. Each of these new friends shares a common theme throughout the book. They teach Opal the importance of looking at a person’s heart. From Franny Block, Opal learns that with happiness comes sadness when Franny shares a special candy, Lettmus Lozenges. Opal and others discover that the secret ingredient in this candy tastes like melancholy.

Because of Winn Dixie is a good choice for young readers. It challenges a person to look at the heart and remember that it’s what is inside that counts. Opal and Winn Dixie find friends in unexpected places and make friends with people whom others see as outcasts–similar to Jesus eating with the sinner. The novel teaches the importance of understanding others and finding the good in us all.

Kristina O’Brien is a mother of twin girls, an avid reader and a credentialed teacher. She has taught both middle school and high school history. She is currently a stay-at-home mom and enjoys raising her two girls.