Review: Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Genre: Middle-Grade Fiction
Maturity Level: 1
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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. A big, ugly, suffering dog with a sterling sense of humor. A dog she dubs Winn-Dixie. Because of Winn-Dixie, the preacher tells Opal ten things about her absent mother, one for each year Opal has been alive. Winn-Dixie is better at making friends than anyone Opal has ever known, and together they meet the local librarian, Miss Franny Block, who once fought off a bear with a copy of WAR AND PEACE. They meet Gloria Dump, who is nearly blind but sees with her heart, and Otis, an ex-con who sets the animals in his pet shop loose after hours, then lulls them with his guitar.

Opal spends all that sweet summer collecting stories about her new friends and thinking about her 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.


This is a sweet, touching book that I think is likely to go over the heads of the target audience. It’s a character-driven story about loneliness, and making friends, and learning to live with loss and abandonment. Elements of magical realism give it an almost whimsical feel, despite heavy themes. And while elements of this story will resonate with children, especially children of single parents, I personally think that too much of the book is sub-text for the vast majority of middle-grade readers to really catch on.

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Review: Pictures of Hollis Woods

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Genres: Middle-Grade, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 2
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In this Newbery Honor Book, a troublesome 12-year-old orphan, staying with an elderly artist who needs her, remembers the only other time she was happy in a foster home, with a family that truly seemed to care about her.


Every adult historical fiction in the world it seems like is currently being written with the dual-timeline thing, and I’m just plain tired of it. But the way Giff used it in Pictures of Hollis Woods surprisingly …WORKED. (Also, this book might pre-date that trend, but who knows when it even started…) Partly it worked because this is a middle-grade book, which meant that it already felt less tired by nature of being different. Also I think it helped that both timelines are very close together and feature Hollis as the narrator. Finally, the past timeline is presented as a series of pictures, mostly pictures that Hollis drew. That really is what breathed fresh life into this worn-out trope.

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Review: Esperanza Rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Genres: Middle-Grade Fiction, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating:
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Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.


Goodness, I forgot how much I adored middle-grade historical fiction when I was a kid. There is something about this genre that I really connect with, and I think it gives kids the opportunity to explore heavy and difficult themes of the past without feeling confronted and uncomfortable about bad things now. If that makes sense.

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