Take some bike rides, candy, peanut butter sandwiches. Squish them together with Gone with the Wind, memories, a talking parrot, and a witch. Then toss in a huge, smiling, ugly dog. Does it sound like a childhood summer adventure sandwich?
Which is exactly what Kate DiCamillo had in mind. How'd she come up with such a quirky idea?
Bingo! You've got Kate's recipe for Because of Winn-Dixie. In other words, DiCamillo missed the heat of growing up in Florida, the dogs of her youth, and she wanted to tell a story that talked about people—that really noticed them, quirkiness and all.
In DiCamillo's first novel, India Opal Buloni recalls her 10-year-old summer in Florida, when a stinky mutt changed both her summer and her life. As you might have guessed, her story includes a whole lot of childhood summer adventure, great kooky characters, and buckets of nostalgia.
But that's not all. Like many of DiCamillo's later tales, it uses an animal to tell a story about life—the good parts and not-so-good parts. And DiCamillo herself has had her share of both good and not so good: wild literary success, but also childhood sickness and the emotional wreckage of a father who abandoned her. In fact, the loss of a parent plays a major role in Because of Winn-Dixie.
Still, despite what she did or didn't want to accomplish, Because of Winn-Dixie catapulted DiCamillo into the literary world. It became a New York Times Bestseller, a Newbery Honor book and won a slew of other awards and honors, like, ahem (We need to clear our throat before listing even a few of those awards):
ALA Notable Children's Book, Josette Frank Award, Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year, Parents' Choice Gold Award, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award. Whew! And that's just the beginning.
Besides, the proof is in the popcorn—within a few years of its publication, Because of Winn-Dixie had already been made into a movie, and since then, two more of her novels have hit the big screen. Boo-ya.
This is a dog story. That's right, a dog story… and aren't dog stories about as awesome as kitten videos?
Okay, maybe you're sick of kittens and puppies and dog stories. This one is different, honest.
First of all, the dog doesn't die. He doesn't even get hurt, if that's what you're afraid of. Instead, the dog is a—prepare for a $10 word—catalyst for other characters to learn to overcome loneliness by forming connections.
That's what this story is really about. No matter who we are, where we live, how old we are, or how many Facebook friends we have, we all get lonely. We lose a pet or a grandparent; a friend moves away; we stay home by ourselves; we get homesick at summer camp—loneliness affects us all.
But it's what we do in the face of loneliness that matters. Because life doesn't stop when we're lonely. It doesn't even slow down.
That's where love and friendship come in. And love and friendship are all over this story. Kate DiCamillo wants us to know that, although we can watch a kitten video for a 30-second dose of happiness, real healing happens deep down inside of us.
So whether you're a dog person, cat person, a gerbil person, or—shudder—a snake person, we think Because of Winn-Dixie deserves a few hours of your time.