When Opal moves to Naomi, Florida with her father, the Preacher, she doesn’t know a soul. Her mother up and left them many years ago, and Opal has a lonely ache in her heart. While shopping in the local grocery store, Opal meets a gregarious mutt whom she claims as her own and names Winn-Dixie. Together, they meet the inhabitants of Naomi: the librarian, Miss Franny Block, who is the heir to Littmus Lozenges; an old woman named Gloria Dump who is reputed to be a witch; and Otis, the owner of Gertrude’s Pets, who lets Opal sweep up the store to earn a collar for her dog. Opal gradually makes friends with the children of the town: pinch-faced Amanda, who has a secret sorrow of her own; Sweetie Pie, who wants nothing more than to have a dog of her own; and the Dewberry brothers, two annoying monkeys who take pleasure in teasing Opal and her dog.
This book was another read-aloud that I did with my kids. They loved the dog and all the hijinks Winn-Dixie got into (especially when he went to church and chased a mouse during the service). A lot of the emotional subtext about Opal’s missing mother went over their heads. One of the fun things about reading DiCamillo’s books aloud is that you see the verbal singularities and irregularities that make each of the characters have her own voice.
After reading several books in the DiCamillo canon (Louisiana’s Way Home, The Tiger Rising), I’m beginning to think that the overarching theme of her books is this: sad things happen, but God puts friends in our lives to help us along the way.
In this book, the Littmus Lozenges have a secret ingredient: sorrow. Everyone who sucks on one remembers the sadness in their past. But for DiCamillo, old sorrows must be faced and acknowledged before we can move on to our future. The grand finale of the book ends with Opal surrounded by family and friends, the ache of longing for her mother having transmuted into something else. Having faced their sorrows, the whole community of friends is bound together more tightly. Recommended.