My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Synopsis: Opal and her preacher father are new to the town of Naomi, Florida when Opal brings home a stray dog she found at the grocery. Before long, Opal and Winn-Dixie start attracting friends: Miss Franny, the librarian, who confronted a bear; an once-jailed musician named Otis; five-year-old Sweetie Pie, who wants a dog; Gloria Dump, a recovering alcoholic; pinch-faced Amanda Wilkinson, and... well, Dunlap and Stevie don't exactly try to make friends. When Opal and Gloria decide to have a party for all their friends—Gloria insisting that Dunlap and Stevie come, too—they set themselves up for a night that everyone will remember.
Notes: It took me fifty minutes to read this book—one straight sitting. It's now one of my favorite children's books.
While I grew up in Montana, I am the daughter of a Southern mama (a fact which results in some Washington State-induced headaches, as the natives here often associate the entire South with Jimmy Swaggart, George W. Bush, grammatical failures, country music stereotypes, and slavery). Finding a human portrayal of deep Southern poverty, then, just about made me giddy with delight. The telling itself is perfectly done—there are no tortured spellings attempting to convey dialect, but you hear the accent perfectly in the cadence of every phrase.
Opal and all her friends, including Winn-Dixie, have some sort of past or present difficulty that causes them sorrow. This sort of thing often results in a "gritty" or "realistic" book. Kate DiCamillo takes her tale in a different direction, celebrating joy after joy: Miss Franny's stories, Gloria's kindness, Otis' humility and apparently magical musical gifts, and the preacher's constant love for his little girl. That last, especially, carries the story. Sorrow takes on beauty and meaning as a pathway to love. I can't describe how glad this made me.
Recommendation: Great for children, and perhaps greater yet for adults. After you read it, you might want to make some fried chicken, or egg salad, or both. I recommend that, too. You'll understand what the South is on about.