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Top 100 Children’s Novels #20: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

#20 Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000)
81 points

Because of Winn Dixie was my #1 pick the first time you did the chapter book poll; in the time since, no other book has threatened to overtake its place as my favorite chapter book of all time. It’s one of the greatest dog stories by one of the superstars in children’s literature. – Jennifer Schultz

I’m not a person who likes dog books, but I do like a good story about quirky small-town folk, and Because of Winn Dixie is the best one of those I’ve read. Winn-Dixie is of course the reason Opal is able to make so many friends, but he is just the bridge between Opal and these people, and not really the main focus of the story. Rather, it’s people like recovering alcoholic Gloria Dump, Otis, who plays music for animals, and even Amanda Wilkinson, whose pinched-up face masks an inner pain Opal could never guess  – these people are what make the book such a delight, and so interesting to read and re-read. Winn-Dixie is a great dog, and his near-loss at the end of the story tugs at the heartstrings, but what makes this book a favorite for me is how carefully Kate DiCamillo develops each character and his or her pain, and how in so few pages, she is able to heal each person with the magic of friendship. – Katie Ahearn

Sometimes I’ll sit around and lament how there really aren’t enough books where kids live in trailers and their lives aren’t horrendous, horrible, and terrible.  And what I forget is that there’s a Newbery Honor book out there that made trailer living something other than the pits.  When we talk about lower income characters in children’s literature, forget not the Winn-Dixie.

The plot from the publisher reads, “The summer Opal and her father, the preacher, move to Naomi, Florida, Opal goes into the Winn-Dixie supermarket — and comes out with a dog. With the help of her new pal, whom she names Winn-Dixie, Opal makes a variety of new, interesting friends and spends the summer collecting stories about them and thinking about her absent mother. But because of Winn-Dixie, or perhaps because she has grown, Opal learns to let go, just a little, and that friendship — and forgiveness — can sneak up on you like a sudden summer storm. Recalling the fiction of Harper Lee and Carson McCullers, here is a funny, poignant, and unforgettable coming-of-age novel.”

I love a good How-They-Hit-It-Big story. Gives newbie authors hope, I think. Who hasn’t loved the tale of single mom Joanne Rowling scribbling Harry Potter down in coffee shops or Madeleine L’Engle getting rejected umpty-ump times? In the case of DiCamillo, this was her first big hit. In a 2004 interview with School Library Journal, DiCamillo said that, “In college [at the University of Florida], I attached myself to the idea of becoming a writer mainly because several professors told me that I had a way with words. But it wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I actually started to write. Then when I moved to Minnesota, I got a job at a book warehouse. I was assigned to the third floor, which was where all the kids’ books were. I had been writing every day by that point, and I entered into that job with, I think, a prejudice that a lot of literate adults have, which is that children’s literature is something less [than adults’]. But then I started to read the books, and I changed my mind.”

According to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, “For years, Kate DiCamillo tried unsuccessfully to get her writing published. Rejected by several publishers, the manuscript for Because of Winn-Dixie languished in the offices of Candlewick Press for several months. Finally a young editorial assistant, Kara LaReau, brought it to the attention of the editor Liz Bicknell. Bicknell laughed when she read the first chapter and then cried; after finishing it, she believed it to be one of the best middle-grade novels she’d ever seen.” And Bicknell knows good books. Trust me.

It won a Newbery Honor in 2001, beaten only by A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck.

  • Read an excerpt of the book here.
  • I have no clue what this is, but it looks neat.
  • A really fun group activity where kids make the cover together is here.
  • And for those of you who run bookgroups for kids, I find such sites as this one (thank you, Multnomah County Library System) invaluable.

Horn Book said of it, “The story teeters on the edge of sentimentality and sometimes topples right in, but the characters are so likable, so genuine, it’s an easy flaw to forgive. All in all, this is a gentle book about good people coming together to combat loneliness and heartache–with a little canine assistance.”

Said Booklist, “While some of the dialogue and the book’s “life lessons” can feel heavy-handed, readers will connect with India’s love for her pet and her open-minded, free-spirited efforts to make friends and build a community.”

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books thought, “By turns funny and moving, vivid from trailer park to pet store, this will propel readers into a satisfying circle of companionship.

The New York Times agreed saying, “Because of Winn – Dixie is a poignant and delicately told story of a dog as a child’s much-needed best friend.”

Not many covers out there (it only came out ten years ago, after all).  There are two others aside from the original that spring prominently to mind, though.  The movie one . . .

The fancy anniversary edition:

A Russian one (with some great interior art!)

And an extra special treat . . .  Chinese!

I’ve always found the movie version of this book notable because it was a realistic children’s book without any fantasy elements (or dream sequences?) that was released in theaters nationwide. Such book-to-screen adaptations are rare beasts indeed. This would also mark the second time a book on this countdown has featured Dave Matthews in a movie adaptation (the first time was when he appeared in Where the Red Fern Grows).

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Officially the Only Dog Book I Have Ever Loved Let Alone Liked. Unless you count Bunnicula books as Dog Books.

  2. The Qwikpick Adventure Society = trailer park kids!

  3. Betsy, not to make more work for you, but at what number was Winn-Dixie in the first poll?

    I love this book–I love dog stories, and this is my favorite.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Jennifer, last time around Winn-Dixie was pretty close to the same number, coming in at #15. It slips a tiny bit, but not too much.

  4. Home Lovely by Lynn Rae Perkins is an excellent picture book about a girl living in a mobile home.

  5. Genevieve says

    I’ll join rockinlibrarian in naming this my only Dog Book that I love.

    Higher Power of Lucky – kids in trailer park

  6. I’ll join the choir and sing the refrain: “I love this book.” It’s one of my favorites to give as a gift to kids who love their pets. Just reading this has inspired me to re-listen to the audiobook. If you’re a fan of audiobooks, this one, with Cherry Jones narrating, is excellent.

    Genevieve – Higher Power of Lucky such a good book. I forgot it had a trailer park. Good call.

    Jennifer – I haven’t read Home Lovely though I’ve read and enjoyed other books by Lynn Rae Perkins (esp. As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth), so thanks for the recommendation.