Let me make it clear from the outset that as a reader and an author of books for young readers that I’ve read each of the books from the pen of the incredibly-talented, Newberry Award-winning author, Kate DiCamillo. I would be challenged to choose a favorite work by the American writer, but if pressed I would choose “Because of Winn-Dixie.” The reasons are numerous: the rich character development, the welcoming setting and the sweet dialogue.
When the 20th Anniversary Edition was discovered at my local bookstore, it was an automatic reflex to add it to my already growing stack of books in my arms. And noticing that Ann Patchett had written the introduction to this new edition propelled me to walk to the register so that I could pay for my treasures, pick up a pizza and head home to plant myself in my worn-out, but very comfortable reading chair.
I had met Ann Patchett years ago when she and Barbara Kingsolver delivered a talk on friendships among writers at the Martha Washington Inn in southwest Virginia.
Opening the book was a gift itself, as I discovered the graphic endpapers of the Friendly Corners Trailer Park, where Opal lives with her father, the preacher and her beloved dog, Winn-Dixie. The deckled page edges brought even more joy. And all of this before even reading the first word.
I settled into the down cushions of my chair and began to read the introduction. As I neared its end, discovering that the author “ . . . regretted that she had not given Opal and Gloria Dump a different book to share” (from the original Gone with the Wind), my breath caught then and at the words that followed: “It’s time for things to change.”
I continued to read the work again, forgetting how many times I had read it before, both looking forward to and feeling anxious about the change that the author had decided to make. And then it appeared in Chapter 15: “How about David Copperfield?” I didn’t know that I had been holding my breath, until I exhaled deeply and with such sorrow at the change in the text.
Before I began to read the next chapter, I was hungry for a deeper explanation of the change. I skipped ahead to the afterword: “I found it painful to see Opal and Gloria Dump sitting together, side by side, reading from a book that I cannot in good conscience recommend to my readers.
“I am grateful for this chance to give Opal and Gloria Dump a different book to share — a book that, while it is not perfect, does not diminish either one’s humanity.” And then, I felt the first tears fall from my eyes.
The author gave thought to making other changes, as well. And at that moment, it was Gloria Dump’s words that came to me: “ . . . you can’t always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now.” And then, I prayed to the literary gods above that this precedent would not catch hold and start an avalanche of change that would be irreversible.
My thoughts began to travel from one classic, treasured, timeless middle-grade story to another. I wondered with each recollection if those stories too would change with the passing of time. I hoped not.
As I recalled the works of Lois Lowry, Jacqueline Woodson, Gary Paulsen, Katherine Patterson, Sharon Creech, Christopher Paul Curtis, Katherine Applegate, Jerry Spinelli, Neil Gaiman and so many others, I could not imagine changes to their respective, well-loved works. And I began to wonder what the young readers might have to say about this type of change that could happen with each new edition.
I took a deep breath, as I began Chapter 16 of a most treasured book that had now changed from what I had known it to be for the past 20 years. And in the end, I suppose that is all we, as hungry readers of a good story, can do.