Everyone understands what it’s like to be lonely, which makes it easy for young readers of Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo to relate to the book’s main character, India Opal Buloni. By reading about Opal’s experience moving to a new town and making an unlikely friend in a stray dog named Winn-Dixie, your students will learn about the power of friendship, belonging, and acceptance of others. They may even learn a little bit about themselves as well.

    The book is also a great way to introduce your students to stories with nonlinear text structure and show them how figurative language can illustrate a story and help convey meaning. Slang is used to make characters sound more realistic, which is a great storytelling device to encourage students to employ in their own fiction writing.

    During reading, encourage students to regularly think about what it would be like to move to a new town and make new friends. It will help them connect with Opal’s experience in the story and the experiences of their classmates, or maybe themselves. Here are a few additional discussion prompts to inspire readers to reflect on Opal’s story and help them relate to their own adventures in the world:

    Using real, everyday language

    How does the author’s use of informal English help readers better picture the characters of Gloria Dump and Otis?

    Identifying key details

    How does Winn-Dixie get his name?

    Understanding the meaning of words and phrases

    What does Gloria Dump mean when she says, “Why don’t you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so as I can see you with my heart?”

    Identifying cause and effect

    Why was Otis arrested? How did this event change the way he plays his music?

    Drawing conclusions

    Why does Opal talk to Gloria Dump’s mistake tree?

    Thinking critically

    How does Opal’s life change because of Winn-Dixie? 

    To inspire students to fully connect to Opal’s story, remind them that her life changed for the better after making friends with Winn-Dixie. Ask students to think back to a time when someone made a difference in their own life, and encourage them to write that person, or pet, a thank you note. Go over proper structure and review key components like greeting, the closing, and the signature, and then help them compose an introduction and short paragraph detailing each way that person has made such a big difference. It’s a great exercise to help students see the positive effect kindness and acceptance of others has in the world.