A girl's best friend

21st July 2000 at 01:00
Elaine Williams finds novels for children who have acquired a taste for reading this summer

Some books present an unlooked-for pleasure, a rare gift to be unwrapped slowly and savoured at every stage. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Walker Books pound;7.99, right) is one of these. Set in Florida, it is a wonderful, bitter-sweet story, that is both funny and sad, and tells of how a young girl comes to terms with her past through her adoption of a flea-bitten and scabby, but loveable hound called Winn-Dixie.

India Opal Buloni has just moved to a new home with her father, a Baptist minister - her mother having walked out of her lfe. The dog's talent for attracting unusual circumstances helps her to make new friends. DiCamillo's understated lyricism is reminiscent of John Steinbeck and she has created an engaging and poignant drama with endearing, oddball characters. These include Otis, the pet-shop manager whose secret passion is to play the guitar and sing to his animals; Gloria Dump, a wise, big-hearted, but lonely old woman; and Franny Block, the diminutive librarian. All these friends, along with Winn-Dixie, help Opal and her father to face up to their loss. A story with immense poise which will provoke laughter and tears from older primary readers.

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