C191-4 Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) forms a fast friendship with a stray dog she has rescued and named Winn-Dixie. Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner TM and © 2005 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication. (suzanne tenner)

Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo.
Best for age 8 and older (but also makes a great read-aloud for younger kids). 182 pages.

There are some characters you like immediately, and India Opal Buloni is such a character. Say her name out loud (yes, it does sound like a lunch meat), and just try not to smile.

The fact that 10-year-old India can smile and make the reader smile is pretty remarkable. She has just left her friends to move to a trailer park in Florida with her father, who is a preacher. Her mom abandoned the family years before, and India knows that this still makes her father sad.

One day, the preacher sends India to the Winn-Dixie grocery store for a box of macaroni, and she comes back with a dog. “He was a big dog. And ugly. His tongue was hanging out and he was wagging his tail. He skidded to a stop and smiled right at me. I had never before in my life seen a dog smile, but that is what he did.”

You see, India has a way about her that makes everyone she meets want to smile.

And the people she meets in this book — including a librarian who tells wild stories, a blind woman with a “mistake tree” in her back yard and a man with a love of music who has been in jail — are so interesting and kindhearted that their love helps make India smile, too.

— Tracy Grant