It's 1952 and Azalea Ann Morgan, 11, isn't too thrilled about being dropped off at her grandmother's house in Paris Junction, Arkansas. Azalea had bigIt's 1952 and Azalea Ann Morgan, 11, isn't too thrilled about being dropped off at her grandmother's house in Paris Junction, Arkansas. Azalea had big plans to hang out with her best friend Barbara Jean at home in Tyler, Texas and to visit the Grand Canyon with the parents. But Grandma Clark has hurt her foot and needs help with her house and garden, and even though Azalea and her grandmother are virtual strangers to each other, Azalea's mother agreed to let her stay for the summer.
Azalea is a shy girl and dreads talking to strangers, and, of course, Paris Junction is full of strangers. No sooner does Azalea arrive, then she notices a boy in one of the trees in her grandmother's enormous garden. Grandma Clark tells her it's Billy Wong, a Chinese American boy who is staying with his great aunt and uncle, longtime Paris Junction residents and owners of the Lucky Seven grocery. But when her grandmother encourages Azalea to make friends with Billy, she hesitates - she's never met a Chinese person before, and can't imagine how they could understand each other if one speaks Chinese and one speaks English.
It turns out that Billy Wong has no trouble with the English language given that his family has lived in Arkansas for generations. Billy is staying in Paris Junction so that he can attend a better school than the school across the river where is parents live. And Billy is one of three kids besides Azalea who come to help out in Grandmother Clark's garden. Besides him, there is the prissy Melinda Bowman and the town bully and troublemaker Willis DeLoach.
Before she knows it, Azalea is speaking more and more to strangers, and becoming friends with Billy Wong, hanging out and riding their bikes around Paris Junction. Which is how they discover Willis DeLoach's secret. Willis, whose mother is in the hospital, is home alone in at trailer in a pecan grove, taking care of his little sister.
And Willis DeLoach hates Billy Wong. He's already in trouble at the Lucky Seven grocery, and continues to steal bubble gum from them whenever he can. Shortly after discovering Willis and his sister at the trailer, the Lucky Seven is vandalized and everyone immediately jumps to the conclusion that it is the work of Willis. Everyone, except Azalea, who actually knows where Willis was the night of the vandalism.
Though the vandalism of the Lucky Seven stands at the center of this novel, there is a lot going on for Azalea. For one thing, her first night at Grandma Clark's she broke what appeared to the an old, maybe valuable plate and is afraid to tell her grandmother. And what happened between her grandmother and her parents that caused the estrangement between them, so that Azalea was never able to get to know her grandmother, or her now deceased grandfather, before. And finally, what is inside the locked shed in Grandmother Clark's garden, the one she forbade Azalea from going into, and yet why is there light coming from it at night, even when her grandmother is home, snoring in her bed?
Making Friends with Billy Wong is my favorite kind of middle grade novel. I picked it up and couldn't put it down. The story is told mainly from Azalea's first person point of view, an outsider to Paris Junction and someone who can record what she sees with more clarity than perhaps its residents. Interspersed are Billy's first person thoughts, written in poetry or in the style of a journalist (he wants to join the school newspaper), in which he writes about his hopes for his new school and his life, and about dealing with the racial prejudice he experiences on a daily basis in this 1952 segregated south.
I've always liked the way Augusta Scattergood handles her characters, regardless of the role they play in one of her novels. She treats them with respect and in return, they reveal themselves calmly, naturally and unselfconsciously, yet they are not without flaws, The same can be said about her southern settings, a setting in which she is very much at home.
And I really loved that Scattergood gave us a grandmother turned out to be different from the usual array of unknown grandmothers. Grandma Clark welcomes Azalea, treats her with nothing but kindness and turns out to be a pretty unique person in her own right. She's fair and open-minded, so why did Azalea's parents want to get away from her as quickly as possible, and refuse to let her get to know her grandchild for so long? The answer may surprise you, it did Azalea.
I can honestly say I enjoyed reading Making Friends with Billy Wong every bit as much as I enjoyed reading Scattergood's previous two historical fiction works - Glory Be and The Way to Stay in Destiny (my reviews). Like them, this is also a wonderfully well-written, very well researched story about family, friendship, bullies, hate, overcoming personal challenges and learning to not jump to conclusions.
Be sure to read Scattergood's Author's Note to learn more about the little known, but large Chinese population in the south in the 1950s and 1960s and what inspired this novel.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+ This book was sent to me by the author
Lucy Emery's family has moved yet again, this time to a lovely old lakeside house in New Hampshire. And even though it won't be the first time she's bLucy Emery's family has moved yet again, this time to a lovely old lakeside house in New Hampshire. And even though it won't be the first time she's been the "new girl," Lucy, 12, knows it can be difficult to make friends with kids who have known each other for a long time.
To make matter more difficult, Lucy's father, a well-known nature photographer, is off to Arizona immediately, leaving her and her mother to deal with the new house. Just before he leaves, Lucy discovers her father is going to judge a kid's photography contest. Lucy is an enthusiastic amateur photographer herself, and would like to take photos that make her dad say that he wished he had taken them. So, Lucy decides to enter the contest - anonymously, of course - to see how she stacks up in her father's unbiased opinion.
Luckily, Lucy immediately meets next door neighbor Nate and his family, including his grandmother. Grandma Lilah, who always comes to the lake for the summer. Each year, she gets involved with the Loon Preservation Committee (LCP), monitoring how the loons at the lake are doing on a daily basis. But now, she is too old to be out on the lake, and it appears that Grandma Lilah is also slipping into dementia. So. Lucy finds herself in a kayak, paddling with Nate and his sister Emily to check on a loon nest across the lake. And Nate, hearing about the photography contest, immediately gets involved, helping Lucy find some great shots she otherwise would not have know about.
As the summer goes by, Lucy to get attached to the loons and to Nate's large family, especially Grandma Lilah, who wants to cross the lake so badly to check on the loons herself. Lucy decides to use the $500. contest prize to rent a pontoon for the day so that Grandma Lilah can go out on the lake and do the daily report for the LPC. And while it appears that Grandma Lilah knows what is happening to her mind, grandson Nate refuses to acknowledge it at all. So when Lucy takes a beautiful but very revealing photo of Grandma Lilah that captures the rawness of her confusion and the sadness she feels, Nate, seeing the truth about his grandmother, gets angry and refuses to speak to Lucy.
And Lucy faces some serious ethical questions when she decides to enter the contest under a false name, and to use the photo of Grandma Lilah for the contest, despite Nate's objections. But, if Lucy wins, the photo could be published in a magazine, and Lucy never asked Nate's family, and especially Grandma Lilah, if that would be OK with them.
Will Lucy and Nate part as friends or enemies at summer's end?
Kids dealing with a grandparent's dementia is a tough topic, and not one you would expect them to be interested in. Cynthia Lord makes it accessible to young readers in Half a Chance by distancing Grandma Lilah, making her part of Lucy's story, but not her family. By doing this, Lucy can see the truth about Grandma Lilah more objectively, without the same level of emotional attachment that Nate feels, and perhaps help Nate accept the changes in his grandmother.
Lord also captures Lucy's conflicting feelings about her father. It's clear she wishes he wasn't such an absentee dad, but she's also proud of his nature photography. Some readers may think that Lucy is trying to compete with his talent, other will understand that she just wants some attention and acknowledgement from him that she is also talented. That Lucy loves her dad goes without saying.
A word of warning for sensitive readers - the loon family consists of two adults and two chicks. However, in keeping with the theme of loss, one of the baby chicks is killed by an eagle.
Half a Chance is a quiet, thoughtful coming of age novel that addresses some serious issues and asks some very thoughtful questions for today's young readers to think about.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+ This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press
Noah loves to spend his summer days with his Grandpa. Together, they sing each beautiful morning in with a big, booming song. Then, after bringing GraNoah loves to spend his summer days with his Grandpa. Together, they sing each beautiful morning in with a big, booming song. Then, after bringing Grandma a hot cup of coffee, they take the dog out for a long walk, rain or shine, singing the whole way. When they come home, there's cinnamon French toast, thanks to Grandma. And after breakfast, Grandpa always asks Noah the same question: "what's on the docket" for the rest of the day.
But one morning, Grandpa forgets how to cut his French toast, followed by more and more forgotten things, until one day, Grandpa doesn't even remember who Noah is and the time Noah and Grandpa spend together is changed forever. But thanks to wise Grandma, the good days aren't completely over once she tells Noah that they must learn to appreciate what Grandpa still has, not what he has lost.
And Noah discovers just how he and Grandpa can connect with each other again - by singing big, booming songs together.
Like so many kids nowadays, Noah is learning how to accept that fact that his Grandpa is suffering from memory loss, most likely Alzheimer's though nothing specific is mentioned, and that forgetting is going to happen more and more frequently, even forgetting a beloved grandchild. This has to be a difficult thing for a child to understand, especially one who is used to seeing a grandparent who is active, happy and loving.
What a Beautiful Morning is a well-done book that doesn't shy away from the reality of what a memory loss disease like Alzheimer's can do to an older person and how it impacts those around them. I think Arthur Levine has really captured Grandpa's confusion when he wakes up and doesn't know who Noah is and Noah's despair as he runs out of the house "breathing hard, a painful lump in his throat."
Illustrations should always reflect what the text says and Katie Kath's line and watercolor illustrations are a beautiful melding of word and picture from beginning to end. Kath captures the joy that a smiling Noah and Grandpa feel when things are going well in her colorful illustrations and the sadness they both feel when Grandpa doesn't remember things in her black, white and gray illustrations giving the sense that all the joy has drained out of their lives.
What a Beautiful Morning is a lovely and sad book, but it is a story that needs to be told to young readers so that they may understand should their lives ever be impacted by a grandparent's memory loss, and/or feel empathy should one of their friends be in a position like Noah. But whether you can relate to Noah or Grandpa or not, it is a book that should be read by everyone.
Alzheimer's directly impacted Arthur A. Levine life when his father was diagnosed with it. It is one of the reason's this book feels so authentic, rather than a story from his imagination. And he has posted some very useful and important Alzheimer's Resources on his blog to help you and your family understand and deal with this disease better. You can find them HERE
This book is recommended for readers age 4+ This book was sent to me by the publisher, Running Press
I don't usually read a first book in a series and then jump the fifth book, but I'm afraid that is exactly what I've done with The Birchbark House serI don't usually read a first book in a series and then jump the fifth book, but I'm afraid that is exactly what I've done with The Birchbark House series. But actually, it really didn't matter. Louise Erdrich is such a skillful writer that I found all the background information I needed to understand Makoons without having read Books 2, 3 and 4, while still making me want to read those three books.
Continuing the story of Omakayas, now married, and her Ojibwe family, it is 1866 and the family has moved west, living on the Great Plains of the Dakota Territory. As one of her 8-year-old twin sons, Makoons, recovers from an illness, he has a vision of what is to come - a vision that is filled with joy but also with sadness.
Away from their beloved river in Western Minnesota, there is no longer a need for canoes, and horses have become the passion of Makoons and twin brother Chickadee. Together, and they do everything together, they practice riding and hunting in anticipation of the day they can join the men in a real buffalo hunt.
After helping to prepare for and then witnessing their first hunt, the two boys find and adopt a young buffalo calf left behind as the adults buffalos fled their hunters. The young calf attaches itself to the twins and follows them wherever they go, even enjoying some of the peppermint candy they trade rabbit skins for. Gradually, the two boys began to pay attention and imitate the "language" of their "little brother" as they care for him.
So when the buffalo herds seem to simple vanish from the plains in thin air, and the Ojibwe begin to feel desperate and despairing, their father, Animikiins, convinces Makoons and Chickadee to try to call the animals back using the "language" they have "learned" from their calf. If it doesn't work, their small clan of Ojibwe will be faced with starvation and forced to move on. And though the buffalo return this time, it is clear they are moving west as the land becomes more and more populated by white settlers.
Once again, Omakayas and her family decide to move further west as well, to a place called Turtle Mountain, leaving behind her beloved sister Angeline and her husband Fishtail and their adopted young daughter Opichi.
As the joys and sorrows of Makoons vision play out, the family that readers have come to know and love face each challenge with strength, sorrow and some laughs. Makoons and Chickadee are two delightful characters, full of 8 year-old mischief, but kind and already sensitive to the world around them. Nokomis, the boy's great-grandmother, now quite old, plants a garden to help the family and spends her last days trying to keep the always hungry buffalo calf from eating it all; Yellow Kettel, their grandmother, is just a grouchy as ever; Deydey, their grandfather, is getting up in years and spends time with Nokomis but still makes the best bows and arrows for his grandsons, and continues play an important part in the daily life of the Ojibwe, though to a lesser extent.
All of this makes Makoons feels like a transition book, focusing on a younger generation, with Omakayas the bridge between the older and younger, and reflecting the changes coming in the times they are living in.
The life of the Ojibwe is described in detail, as they hunt, skin, and prepare food for the winter, when it becomes scare to find. Nothing is done without acknowledging the buffalo, called the "generous ones" for providing what is needed and nothing goes to waste. To waste what the buffalo give would be a sacrilege. But while Louise Erdrich depicts the very deep connection to the natural world that the Ojibwe clearly feel, she also shows how it is eroding as the modern world impinges more and more on their daily lives.
Makoons (meaning little bear in Ojibwe) is written in Erdrich's same lyrical prose that is so familiar now. She has also done the black and white spot illustrations that appear throughout the book. It amazes me how Erdrich can get some much into a story using such simple, straightforward language. There are Ojibwe words used throughout, but there is a glossary and pronunciation guide in the back matter to help readers.
Erdrich really knows how to craft her novels so that there is, like Makoons vision, a nice balance between joy and sorrow. There are, of course, the hard times and survival of this Ojibwe clan, there is the sadness as loved ones pass away, but there are also the endearing antics of Makoons and Chickadee. And for real comic relief, there are the lovesick antics of the overly vain Gichi Noodin, who is so smitten with Omakayas's adopted daughter, Zozie that he seems to do nothing but make a fool of himself whenever he tries to impress her.
Whether you have followed the lives of Omakayas and her clan from the beginning or whether Makoons is your first introduction to these wonderful multigenerational characters, I can't recommend them highly enough.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+ This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline
August 6, 2016 marks the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, followed by the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9th. And by now, most readers areAugust 6, 2016 marks the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, followed by the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9th. And by now, most readers are familiar with the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. Sadako's compelling story focuses on her illness 9 years after being exposed to the deadly radiation that resulted in the aftermath of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. However, we don't really learn much about what Japan was like during the war, before the atomic bomb destroyed two cities and some many lives. Until now.
The Last Cherry Blossom is the fictionalized story based on the experiences of the author's mother living in Hiroshima as a child during the war.
Despite the fact that Japan has been at war with the United States since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, life hasn't been too difficult for 12-year-old Yuriko Ishikawa, affectionately called Joya by her beloved papa. She is proud of her samurai heritage, and loves to hear papa tell stories about it. But, when her teacher tells her that she has made a mistake on her koseki or family tree project, Yuriko becomes quite upset, asking papa what she meant. Instead of an answer, he has the teacher fired. But why?
Despite that, living on the outskirts of Hiroshima, with papa, owner of a newspaper, and her annoying Aunt Kimiko and five-year-old cousin Genji, the family hasn't suffered many of the usual hardships of war - rationing and making do just don't seem to be in evidence. Of course, there are air raids, American planes flying overhead, and Yuriko, her best friend Machiko, in fact, all school children are expected to learn how to fight using a bamboo spear, if necessary. But when Yuriko's papa and Aunt Kimiko both decide to get remarried at the same time, there is still silk to buy for new kimonos.
Yuriko has always cherished the time she spends alone with her papa, and wonders if her new stepmother, Sumiyo-san, now living in the family home, along with Akira-san, Aunt Kimiko's new husband, will understand that. Happily, Sumiyo-san turns out to be a loving, kind stepmother who understands. But when the mother of her fired teacher tells her that a man named Nishimoto-san would love to see her, she opens a Pandora's box of family secrets that turns Yuriko's world up-side-down and it is up to Aunt Kimiko to explain things.
Yuriko barely has time to digest what Aunt Kimiko tells her, than the war begins to hit closer to home. First Tokyo is badly bombed, and, a few months later, an atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, changing Yuriko's life forever.
The Last Cherry Blossom is author Kathleen Burkinshaw's debut novel, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write her mother's story and yet, how necessary. Perhaps having listened to her mother's memories of Japan during WWII and of her survival after the bomb was dropped while growing up is what made this such a realistic narrative. Told in the first person by Yuriko, the reader is pulled into the story right from the start.
The Last Cherry Blossom is a shattering story, and part of what makes it so devastating is the detailed descriptions of daily life and favorite special occasions that Yuriko lovingly provides when all the while the reader knows what was coming. I did like reading about the happy times, so filled with Japanese culture, such as how Yuriko's family celebrated the weddings, as well as Oshagatsu (New Year's Celebration) and Sakura Hanami (the Cherry Blossom Festival) and other festivals, though the chohei pati, the celebration party families have when a son is sent to war, is definitely not a happy occasion. It is supposed to be an honor to fight for Japan, but in reality, no one feels very honored.
(Burkinshaw does use lots of Japanese words throughout the novel, giving this a real feeling of authenticity, and there is an extensive Glossary in the back matter to help readers.)
In fact, the chohei pati points to the ways in which propaganda is used during war by all countries. At the beginning of each chapter, there are quotes from radio addresses, newspapers and propaganda posters about how well Imperial Japan is doing in the war or what is expected of civilians at home, most of which is incorrect, but people are expected to simple believe what they are told.
The Last Cherry Blossom is a story of unfathomable loss, but also of hope, resilience, and survival. Paired with Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, both these stories should stand as a cautionary tale about war and the use of what we would now call weapons of mass destruction, and never forget that, as Burkinshaw reminds us in her Afterword, "the victims were all someone's mother, father, brother, sister, or child." It was true then, and is still true today.
This book is recommended for readers age 11+ This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline
The Penderwick sisters - sensible Rosalind, 12, Skye, 11 and the only blue-eyed sister, Jane 10 and a budding writer and the creator of the Sabrina StThe Penderwick sisters - sensible Rosalind, 12, Skye, 11 and the only blue-eyed sister, Jane 10 and a budding writer and the creator of the Sabrina Starr stories, and shy Batty, 4 the wearer of orange and black wings, are off on a vacation with their widowed dad and their dog Hound at a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts called Arundel. Rented for three weeks, sight unseen, the Penderwicks certainly didn't expect it to be a huge mansion at the end of a long driveway. Luckily the gardener, Cagney, 18ish, is there to direct them to the cottage way at the back of the extensive estate. Just before they leave to find the cottage, Jane spots a boy looking out of one of the mansion's windows.
The next day, Skye decides to go exploring and overhears the estate's owner, the officious Mrs. Tifton, telling Cagney to get rid of a beautiful rosebush. Skye, whose father is a botanist, suggests he replant the rosebush outside the cottage. On her way home, she runs into into the boy from the window, literally, knocking him out, then telling him to stay away from the very mean Mrs. Tifton. It doesn't take long to discover that the boy is Jeffrey Tifton, 11 year-old only son of the estates cold-hearted owner. But it is Jane who is sent to the mansion to apologize for Skye's remarks about his mother, and who brings him back to the cottage with her. After a rocky start, it turns out that Jeffrey is a perfect fit for the Penderwick sister's adventures.
Unfortunately, events at Jeffrey's birthday party, a rather stiff affair to begin with, set the stage for Mrs. Tifton to really dislike the Penderwick sisters and she isn't very happy about her son being friends with them. Mrs. Tifton has decided that she is going to remarry and wants to send Jeffrey to a military school in Pennsylvania so he can become a general and follow in her beloved father's footsteps. Gentle-soul Jeffrey wants to study music, but his mother forbids that.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey, Jane and Skye become great friends, practicing archery, playing soccer and just having fun. Batty is invited over to Cagney's house to visit his two bunny rabbits every day, with whom she immediately falls in love, and Rosalind is only too happy to take her, having developed a crush on the gardener - even if he is too old for her.
Now, Mrs. Tifton wants nothing more than to win her Garden Club's competition this year and so she is very particular about what is done to them by Cagney, spending a lot of her time fussing around the gardens. As I said, she isn't a very nice person, and has little regard for what her son wants, in fact, doesn't even see him as a unique person at all, just an extension of her and her father. As her dislike for the sisters increases, she finally forbids Jeffrey from seeing them, but when things go terrible wrong with her hopefully-soon-to-be-prize-winning gardens, she and her fiancé decide it's time to take Jeffrey visit that military school.
And just when it looks like Jeffrey's military school fate is sealed, the Penderwick sisters come up with a plan. Will they be able to help their new friend?
One lonely boy, one smart, well-intentioned dog, a raucous soccer game, a garden club competition, two rabbits, and four Penderwicks - clearly the stage is set for all kinds of adventures, some that are fun, others that are disastrous, but all together resulting in a truly wonderful story about family life.
For reasons I can't even imagine now, I put off reading The Penderwicks for a long, long time, despite having heard rave reviews about it. But one rainy day, I picked it up and no sooner had I started reading then the strangest feeling kept coming over me. I knew I was reading a modern story, after all, Mr. Penderwick and Jane both use a computer (no cell phone in evidence, though), yet I kept feeling like the action took place in the past. It just had that nice, nostalgic kind of feeling to it that took me right back to my 11 year-old self. How could you not love a book that can do that?
Jeanne Birdsall has managed to write a delightful, gentle, character-driven novel that manages to give full voice to all four of the Penderwick sisters, and even Hound, though his voice is translated by Batty. We don't see much of Mr. Penderwick, a Latinist after my own heart, nor are we privy to his thoughts, yet despite that, he is still feels like a fully realized character.
If you haven't read a Penderwicks book yet, you are in for a delightful experience. The Penderwicks would pair nicely with The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy, another character-driven story about four brothers, their dads, and family life.
Now, I can't wait to read The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Book #2) and all the others.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+ This book was purchased for my personal library
Sent by her father to the Winn-Dixie to buy a box of mac and cheese, white rice and two tomatoes, India Opal Buloni, 10, returns home with a very dirtSent by her father to the Winn-Dixie to buy a box of mac and cheese, white rice and two tomatoes, India Opal Buloni, 10, returns home with a very dirty, skinny, smelly dog covered in bald patches. but a dog with an endearing smile. Immediately christened Winn-Dixie, Opal sure hopes her preacher dad will let her keep him. But, Opal and her dad have just moved into the Friendly Corners Trailer Park in Naomi, Florida, where he is the new preacher of the Open Arms Baptist Church, and he has a strict no dog policy - that is, until Winn-Dixie smiles at him.
Since it's summer, Opal and her new best friend Winn-Dixie have lots of time to explore and get to know all kinds of different people, including her own mother. Opal's mother left when she was three, and her dad has withdrawn like a turtle into its shell ever since. Now, Opal wants to know more and she talks her dad into telling her ten things about her mother and hopes this opens the door to more information about her.
Now, Winn-Dixie is a great dog, loyal, loving, smiling, but he does not like being left alone and he is deathly afraid of thunderstorms. He goes nuts during thunderstorms, running back and forth trying to get out and Opal has to figure out how to keep him calm and safe. And when Winn-Dixie is left alone, he howls. Which is just what happens every time Opal goes into a place with a no-dogs-allowed policy, beginning with the Open Arms Baptist Church on Sunday morning, and then when Opal goes to the library.
Opal loves hearing stories, and she's now spending lots of time at the Herman W. Block Memorial Library, where she gets to know Miss Franny Block, Herman's daughter. Before she knows it, Miss Franny Block has a dog in her no-dogs-allowed library, telling Opal and Winn-Dixie the story of the bear that once came into the library and making two new friends.
As Winn-Dixie's fur grows back in and he begins to look really cared for and healthy, Opal decides to buy him a collar and leash. But the ones she likes are too expensive, so she strikes a deal with the store clerk, the guitar-playing Otis, to buy them on the installment plan in return for work, but only of Winn-Dixie can come into the no-dogs-allowed story, and yes, a smile and a tail-wag and he's in.
Thanks to the annoying brothers Dunlap and Stevie Dewberry, the next person Opal meets is Miss Gloria Dump, a very old, nearly blind lady who likes to eat peanut butter sandwiches and who immediately takes a shine to the ever smiling Winn-Dixie, and is not at all the witch the boys think she is.
These are the first new friends that Opal makes thanks to Winn-Dixie. To celebrate, she and Gloria Dump decide to have a party and invite everyone, including the Dewberry brother. There are egg salad sandwiches, punch and Litmus Lozenges, a strange candy invented by Miss Franny Block's great grandfather after the Civil War that tastes oddly like root beer, strawberry and sadness. The party is a big success until along comes a thunderstorm and Winn-Dixie runs away.
Will Opal and her father find Winn-Dixie? And will Opal finally be able to pull her father out of his shell?
Ever since I read Old Yeller as a young girl, I've been rather skeptical about dog stories and tend to avoid them. But we have been reading a lot of Kate DiCamillo's books this summer and Because of Winn-Dixie, was the most requested. It is, in fact, DiCamillo's debut novel, and was a Newbury Honor Book in 2001.
Even though this is a bit on the sentimentally enchanting side, I nevertheless thought that Because of Winn-Dixie really dealt well with some important themes for young readers today: loss, grief, loneliness, and unfamiliar places that slowly turns into hope, friendship and new beginnings for everyone that Winn-Dixie smiles at and whose story Opal is interested in hearing about.
DiCamillo is such a master wordsmith that although the novel feels almost light and breezy, it is anything but. She develops her characters, bringing their wonderfully quirky personalities to the fore so slowly it is like she has caressed them into being. And yet, the language is straightforward and simple enough that even my six-year-old listener was spellbound and rooting for everyone.
Older readers sharing this book with young readers may find the ending a little overly simplistic and predictable, but that's OK. Sometimes, that's just what you need. Besides, what is important here is the journey each character took to get them to the moment when they all came together and the journey they will share from then on enriching each others lives. And maybe because I have a southern mother and come from a long line of southern preachers, and maybe because this is such a well-crafted story, I can honestly say that I really loved this book and so did the kids I read it to.
There is a very useful Teacher's Resource guide available from the publisher, Candlewick Press, that can be downloaded HERE
This book is recommended for readers age 8+ This book was purchased for my personal library