Because of Winn-Dixie

Full disclosure: As much as I enjoy the works of Kate DiCamillo, I read Because of Winn-Dixie against my will. I did not want to read it. I am not one to pick up a “dog book” if I don’t have to. My friend’s nagging, however, was more than my meager willpower could handle, so I sat down to read this book Sunday night. Two hours later, I was finished with the book, and I reluctantly admitted that Because of Winn-Dixie was a sweet, heart-warming story. I’m glad I took the time to read it, and I now see what all of the fuss was about.

Opal Buloni doesn’t expect to become a dog-owner when she steps into her new town’s grocery store that fateful day. But that’s just what happens. She takes one look at the big, smiling, rough-around-the-edges dog and knows that she has to take him home…and save him from the angry grocery store manager. And so Winn-Dixie, a dog named after a supermarket, comes into Opal’s life and begins to change her world.

Opal isn’t sure how her father is going to feel about Winn-Dixie, but it doesn’t take long for the dog’s smile and gentle presence to do its work. The whole town feels it. This dog leads Opal to make unlikely friends, including the town librarian, a five-year-old who thinks all parties should have a theme, an ex-con who works in the pet store and has a special way with music, and a nearly blind woman who some in town believe to be a witch.

Through it all, Opal grows closer to the people in her new town…even some she made snap judgments about in the beginning. She also begins to learn more about her own mother, a woman who Opal never really got the chance to know. She becomes a more understanding, compassionate, and caring person.

And all because of Winn-Dixie.

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So, yeah…I liked this book even though I really resisted reading it in the first place. I guess that’ll teach me to judge a book by its dog.

I think Because of Winn-Dixie is wonderful if you’re looking for a book that emphasizes things like empathy, friendship (especially those that are rather unlikely), and even forgiveness. It takes a gentle look at all of these things without being too preachy…which is kind of cool since Opal’s dad is actually a preacher.

Because of Winn-Dixie is a great read for any age level. It’s a good read-aloud for younger grades, and kids in upper elementary grades on up will find it to be a quick yet powerful book that will stay with them for years to come.

If you’d like to learn more about Because of Winn-Dixie and other books by the amazing Kate DiCamillo, check out her website.

Happy reading!

Hate List

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to my latest read, Hate List by Jennifer Brown.  Given the recent shooting in Arizona, this book was especially powerful.  It looks at a point of view not often considered–someone who loved the one responsible for such a tragedy.  Hate List deals with a school shooting, and I’m sure that some educators, parents, community members, and students will want to keep this book out of school libraries, but I strongly urge those people to take the time to actually read this book.  It provides readers with a very real view of the guilt someone could feel in not seeing what someone was capable of, in still loving the person that committed such atrocities, in feeling responsible for what happened.  Most of all, Hate List is about forgiveness, which is something all of us could stand to learn a little more about.

Everything changed on May 2, 2008.  On that morning, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire in the commons area at their high school.  He killed some and wounded others, including Valerie, before turning the gun on himself.  Valerie is now left to deal with what happened in the aftermath, including facing her own actions leading up to the shooting, saving an enemy’s life, going to school again, and simply surviving each day.  She knows Nick’s actions were monstrous and destroyed many lives, including her own, but she still remembers the loving boyfriend only she seemed to know.  How could she have not seen he would do something like this?  And why did he seem to think, just before she stepped in front of his gun, that she supported his actions?

As Valerie reflects on what happened, her relationship with Nick, and facing going back to school, she is forced to face some harsh truths.  Was she somehow to blame for what happened?  Yes, she and Nick had a Hate List, filled with the names of people who bullied or wronged them in some way, but they never really took that seriously.  At least, she didn’t think so.  Could she have stopped him or seen what he was planning?  Can anyone forgive her for her part in the shooting, or for loving Nick?  Can she even forgive herself?

Read Hate List to discover what it’s like for one girl who truly loved someone who committed horrible acts and how she learns to cope with the guilt that comes from surviving, especially when so many around her wish she hadn’t.  Can Valerie move on?  Does she even want to?  Read Hate List by Jennifer Brown to find out.

I really think Hate List is a wonderful book.  It is by no means a comfortable read, but it could serve to open up discussions in high schools and beyond about dealing with bullying, violence, and the aftermath of tragedy.  It could also help people to really see that those who commit these crimes have loved ones, too.  These are often the forgotten victims that no one really wants to see.  Something to think about.

For more information on Hate List and author Jennifer Brown, visit http://www.jenniferbrownya.com/.