A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 17:

  • Happy birthday Dora Jessie Saint, pen name Miss Read (News From Thrush Green), Roy A. Gallant (The Ever-Changing Atom), and Jane Kurtz (River Friendly, River Wild).
  • It’s the birth date of Dayal Kaur Khalsa (1943-1989), I Want a Dog, and Martyn Godfrey (1947-2000), Baseball Crazy.
  • In 1397 Chaucer tells the Canterbury Tales for the first time at court of Richard II. Read Canterbury Tales adapted by Barbara Cohen, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales by Marcia Williams, and Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady by Selina Hastings.
  • It’s Bat Appreciation Day. Read Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies.

April has been set aside as “Dog Appreciation Month.” My own dogs serve as my writing muse. Just now Lancelot, eating with relish, makes small pig noises. He encourages me to write with gusto. The bond between child and dog remains one of the universal experiences of childhood, as does the longing for a dog if the child has been denied one by a parent.

That longing has been beautifully described in our book of the day, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. Ten-year-old India Opal Buloni lives with her preacher father; they are newcomers in a Florida town. Opal’s mother left years ago, and her father has come to take up his calling in the Open Arms Baptist Church. One day, while shopping in the Winn-Dixie store, Opal sees a stray dog with a charismatic smile who has knocked down groceries into the aisles. Because she longs for a companion in this new town, she claims him as her own and calls him the first thing that comes to her mind, Winn-Dixie. Opal finds that he follows obediently and fits in perfectly—after a bath and some food.

Then, because of Winn-Dixie, she begins to make friends—the local librarian, an old lady some call a witch, the owner of a pet store, and even some of the boys and girls of the town. At the end of the book, they all have a wonderful celebratory party—only to have the catalyst of the event, Winn-Dixie, vanish suddenly in a thunderstorm. But all ends well, as readers watch Opal move from a misfit to a member of a community, helping others heal from their own loneliness and heartache.

Ideal for eight- to twelve-year-old readers, Because of Winn-Dixie, DiCamillo’s first children’s book, had little success when sent to publishers. In fact, DiCamillo is probably the most rejected of our contemporary writers, with 440 rejections, from the time she first started sending work out until the day Winn-Dixie was accepted. This manuscript sat in the Candlewick offices for several months until a young editorial assistant, Kara LaReau, found it, liked it, and passed it on to Liz Bicknell. Bicknell laughed at the first chapter and then cried. After finishing it, she thought it the best middle grade novel she had ever read. When the call came from Bicknell to ask if the book might still be available, DiCamillo was faced with something new to her—acceptance. Quickly selling a half million copies and winning a Newbery Honor, the book won over critics and children in equal measure. As one child has said of the story: “If Winn-Dixie weren’t a book, I’d marry it.”

In the twenty-first century Kate DiCamillo has written one fabulous book after another, many headed for classic status—The Tale of Despereaux, winner of the Newbery, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and recently Bink and Gollie with Alison McGhee, winner of the Geisel Award. Starting as one of the most rejected writers, Kate DiCamillo has become one of this century’s most acclaimed authors. For those who like to use manuscript drafts with young readers, several versions of Because of Winn-Dixie can be found online here.

If by any chance you have missed her, you can begin with no better book than Because of Winn-Dixie. Telling a beautiful story, with great characters, in simple language, Kate reminds all her readers just how satisfying a girl and her dog story can be—when told from the heart.

Here’s a passage from Because of Winn-Dixie:

Miss Franny looked around the library. She leaned in close to me, “I don’t want to appear prideful,” she said, “but my daddy was a very rich man. A very rich man.” She nodded and then leaned back and said, “And I was a little girl who loved to read. So I told him, I said, “Daddy I would most certainly love to have a library for my birthday, a small little library would be wonderful.’”

“You asked for a whole library?”

“A small one,” Miss Franny nodded.

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Originally posted April 17, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Award Winning, Dogs, Newbery
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Because of Winn-Dixie
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COMMENTS

  1. Sydnee says:

    As a sucker for a dog companion book, I’ve read this novel over and over, and given it as a gift to people. I’ve also always loved this cover. Winn-Dixie reminds me of my parent’s irish wolfhound!

  2. Winn-Dixie is the perfect book. ’nuff said,

  3. I love this book. When I taught 2nd grade we read this aloud and then we performed it as a play! We found the script on Scholastic. So much fun! Thanks for reminding me about it!

  4. Hello,
    I follow you on Twitter, but somehow didn’t realize you had this Almanac. You do a fantastic job reviewing this book! Would love to follow it-but don’t see a place to subscribe. (Guess there is a reason my husband describes me as technically challenged)
    Here’s my “dog confession”: When I moved to Missouri 5 years ago, I bought a red bone coon dog just because of Where the Red Fern Grows.

  5. Anita says:

    Kim: At this point, besides Twitter, you can also follow on RSS feed and Facebook. The keys are near the search engine for the site.
    Believe me, I can understand buying a red bone coon hound because of a book!

  6. Tess W. says:

    This is one of my top ten books of all time. Opal’s voice, the personality of Winn-Dixie, and the adult characters Opal befriends are so engaging and interesting. It’s extraordinary to me how Kate DiCamillo needs so few pages to create so vast and beautiful a story. This book has special significance for me because it once helped me grieve. About two years ago now, I made an attempt to rescue an injured, homeless kitten on the streets of Busan, South Korea. I had to sneak that cat onto buses, subways, and into a taxi, as well as contact a vet and convince them to stay open until very late in order to see the kitten. The little guy made it onto the exam table before he decided he just couldn’t keep fighting anymore. I was so sad and felt so strange, watching the kitten die. I’d even named him Dodger, cuz he was such a tough, noisy little guy in spite of his injuries. The next day, I stayed in my apartment all day long trying to understand why I was so upset. I read and reread “Because of Winn-Dixie” and something about the spirit of the book helped me cope and cry out all my bad feelings. It was a very cleansing experience and I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the story and characters, who helped me deal with a difficult experience.

  7. Winn Dixie remains my favorite Kate DiCamillo book, although I love them all. Kate has done a great deal for children’s literature and relates so well to children – we’re lso ucky to have her in Minnesota.

  8. Anita says:

    Tess: Thanks for sharing this story. I am always amazed at how our best books help us deal with the events that occur in our lives.

  9. John says:

    My students find it hard to believe that authors face rejection and must REVISE REVISE REVISE. Every year I share this resource in which Kate DiCamillo shows how the beginning of Because of Winn-Dixie takes shape. http://www.scholastic.com/winndixie/story.htm

    Thank you for celebrating Because of Winn-Dixie.

  10. Anita says:

    John: Thank you for reminding me of this great resource; I’ve added it into the review so people can find it easily. It is so exciting when young readers, and students of children’s literature, can watch how a masterpiece came about.

  11. How great it is to find the background of a children’s story like this one.

    The story behind Because of Winn-Dixie is incredible and it makes the book even more special.

    For once, I already have a book that CBADA recommends – and I can’t wait to read it with my two little listeners!

    Read Aloud Dad

  12. Colleen says:

    This has been one of my favorite books for years! Growing up in the land of Meijer and Kroger grocery stores, I remember how excited I was when I saw my very first Winn-Dixie while on a family vacation. It made the book so much more real! It is such a touching story and now I’m quite a softy when it comes to stray dogs!

  13. G. Perry says:

    I have always loved dogs. I dreamed long and long of having my own collie when I was a boy . It even surpassed my longing for a bicycle. As a child I received neither. In fact, they shot stray dogs at the so-called church home where I grew up. The man that did that was later hospitalized for mental problems, but it left a searing and brutal memory for this boy.

    To Kim Piddington who bought the red bone coon hound because of Where The Red Fern Grows: My uncle Leo grew up across the street from WIlson Rawls. He and Rawls were good boyhood friends. My uncle was on the filming site with Rawls for the movie. Unfortunately, I was not a part of my uncle’s family. However my aunt now tells me Wilson Rawls was a good family friend, and a great lad. He would come through the front door like a whirlwind one-of-their-own.

    As an adult, I did indeed have a collie, and when he died at age ten, I experienced not only the grief of losing him, but some profound unexperienced childhood grief came out with it. It took two years for that to clear my soul.

    I have come to understand that bonding with an animal is as close as some children will get to love and belonging. WIth good fortune, at least some will have that.

  14. Tess W. says:

    Anita: I think that particular story expresses the most moved I’ve ever been by the power of a book. Thank goodness for authors like Ms. DiCamillo and also for literacy!!

  15. Erica S. says:

    Thanks so much for the links to the drafts – I love seeing how a book takes shape!

  16. Amy B says:

    My fourth grade students have always loved this book! I’ve also shared with them the amount of revising Kate DiCamillo does and the rejection she experienced as inspiration.

  17. Erin says:

    I am always a sucker for animal stories, and this is one of my favorites. I think that this book will easily become a classic, and the film adaptation is not bad either (which also helps). I was able to see a screening of the film atteneded by Kate DiCamillo, and I waited in line for hours to have her sign a copy of my book. It was worth it because she was so friendly and gracious to all of her fans.

  18. A lovely piece, Anita.

    And to any schools, teachers, librarians who would like to organize a community-read event using Because of Winn Dixie, Kate offers 300 copies for 6 weeks – free. School is only responsible for shipping to the next school that has signed up.

    http://www.shareourbooks.org

  19. Anita says:

    Barbara: Thanks for posting about this event.

  20. An amusing anecdote about that book: My editor, Frances Foster, told me she thought it was “an almost perfect book.” When I attended Kate’s signing, I told her that and then assured her (with a wink) that I would write THE perfect book. She signed my copy of Winn Dixie: “To Barbara, who will write the perfect book.”

    I’m still working on that….

  21. G. Perry says:

    For 2012:

    I later read the book and really enjoyed it. A very fine story indeed, and well told.

    I could never get my head around —The Tale of Despereaux, but I loved Because of Winn-Dixie.
    (I may need to try Despereaux again.)

    The back story about 400 rejections really got my attention. Very inspiring.

  22. This is the book I’m giving away for World Book Night! I’ll be meeting with a group of local fourth graders (reluctant reader types) and sharing the wonder of this story with them.

  23. Anita says:

    Gordon: You might want to try Edward Tulane instead if you haven’t read it. Winn Dixie readers tend to like Tulane.

  24. Jory Hearst says:

    I do love Winn Dixie, but I think Bink & Gollie are Kate DiCamillo’s real recent success. They are funny, warm and strange. (I love when they talk about using your “gray matter”!) Can’t wait for more in this early-reader realm she’s entered.

  25. Beverly says:

    DiCamillo seldom disappoints me. I loved Winn Dixie (and I’m not a dog person), Despereaux delights, and The Magician’s Elephant is wonderful–love endings that bring all the characters back together neatly.

  26. Momo says:

    Yes another emotional and wonderful book (and I am a dog person!). I love telling Australian children that Winn Dixie is the name of a supermarket. This amazes them as ours have quite different names here in Australia. The Magicians elephant also took my breath away! DiCamillo is such a skillful story teller.

  27. Grimlock says:

    This is a great book and opal and winn-dixie are great friends. I wonder what Mami winn-dixie grocery store looks like.

  28. Ali says:

    FINALLY read this book last month after enjoying the movie years ago. Don’t know why it took me so long since I know the book is always better than the movie. Loved it! And I am so NOT a dog person!

  29. Eliza says:

    Your entry made me re-listen to the audiobook for Winn-Dixie and it holds up to repeated reading/listening. It was great visiting India Opal and all her friends (human and animal) again. For those out there who like audiobooks, Cherry Jones does a great job narrating this book.

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