I recently picked up the book Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. I vaguely remember seeing this book hanging out on a bookshelf in my house as a kid, but I had never actually taken the time to read it. When I was starting to think about this idea of sharing my love of literature with other teachers and families, I knew that I wanted to create a novel study . . . a tool that teachers or parents could use with their kids to teach important reading skills and generate discussion as they worked their way through a chapter book. But where to start?
I thought about my own experience in the classroom. The novels I have enjoyed teaching the most are those stories with characters my students can relate to and lessons that they can apply to their lives. As I thought about what book to use for my first novel study, I thought of that sweet dog on the cover of that one book jammed into my bookshelf back home. I quickly purchased the book and began to read. This book did not disappoint! Here are three life lessons I learned from Winn-Dixie.
- Stop and connect!
India Opal Buloni has recently moved to a small town in Florida because her father has taken a pastorate position at the local church. At the beginning of the book, Opal describes her father a good man who works hard on his sermons, helps the less fortunate, and does his best as a single father. Opal, however, feels disconnected from her father because she feels that he spends so much time on his work at the church that he doesn’t have time for her. In fact, throughout most of the story, she refers to him as Preacher . . . not daddy. Throughout the book, Opal is craving for a restored relationship with her father, and it isn’t until he sets his work aside and invests in Opal’s interests that their relationship begins to grow.
This theme throughout the book got me thinking. How often do I let myself get swept up in the business of my everyday life that I tend to forget to stop and make connections with others? As a wife, mom, teacher, and invested church member, I have a lot to do. But what do any those things matter if I don’t have connections and relationships? I don’t ever want my children or my students to feel as Opal did . . . less important than the tasks at hand.
2. People deserve a chance!
Throughout the book, Opal begins to make friends in her new town including an older woman living in a secluded cabin named Gloria Dump. Opal often finds herself at Gloria’s house sharing all that she has learned about the townspeople. Opal quickly learns that many of her new friends have a past . . . pasts full of regrets and mistakes. Opal is shocked by what she learns and isn’t sure how to move forward in her friendships with some of these people. Gloria wisely teaches Opal that she needs to look at how her friends are now and the decisions they are making now . . . not the decisions they made in the past.
I believe Gloria’s advice is wise because, with God’s help, people can change. Everyone has made mistakes in the past or has regrets . . . its called human nature . . . but what are they doing now? What decisions are they making now? If I were to choose my friends based on people’s past, I would have no friends and no one would be friends with me! Proverbs 13:20a says “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” Wisdom can come from experience . . . sometimes its good experiences and sometimes its bad experiences. The true test of a good friend is how are they choosing to live their life now? Did they learn from their past mistakes? Are they working to avoid those past choices and make new ones for the better? If so, then they are my kind of friend! And I hope to be that kind of friend to others!
3. Be a joy-giver!
Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal is able to meet many of the townspeople and make some unexpected friendships. She quickly learns that many people are hiding an aching heart and going about their day acting as if their loneliness, abandonment, grief, or regret doesn’t exist. Eventually, Opal reaches the conclusion that the whole world must have an aching heart for one reason or another. In an effort to bring joy and comfort to her friends, Opal plans a simple party to celebrate the friendships she has made in her new home. Because of Opal, people are able to open up about their sorrow and find comfort in the fact that they are not alone! And with this new found community, there is joy!
Am I a joy-giver? Do I see the pain in those around me? Do I help to connect people together in a room and foster community where I am at? I feel that I fall short of this goal so often. To bring joy to others, I have to be willing to look outside of myself to the lives of other people. That takes work. Its not natural. It is more natural to focus on myself rather than focus on the needs of others. I pray that my eyes will be open to the lives of others everyday and that God will use me to bring joy to other people’s lives.
I will be honest . . . there is probably so much more that I could say, but then you would just stop reading. While this book is not written from a Christian perspective, I was reminded of how Jesus lived during His ministry here on earth. Jesus stopped and made connections with people, despite the business of His ministry. Jesus loved those who were deemed unlovable by society based on their past mistakes. Jesus brought joy into the hearts of aching and broken people. The purpose of my life is to bring glory to God by being more like Jesus. Therefore, I have been reminded that I need to connect, love, and bring joy to others just as Jesus did.
I hope that this post was encouraging and challenging to you. I also hope that you were inspired to pick up the book Because of Winn-Dixie and read it with your children or students. If you are interested in studying Because of Winn-Dixie in depth, please be sure to check out the Shop page.
Disclaimer: Because of Winn-Dixie includes some heavy themes. Please research or read this book ahead of time to make sure that it is a good fit for your audience.