At times, dogs really do seem to be "man's best friend". They provide comfort and help many individuals not feel so lonely. "Because of Winn-Dixie", by Kate DiCamillo, helps a ten year old girl cope with living in a new town where she has no friends and knows very few people. When a mangy dog wanders into the "Winn-Dixie" grocery store, lonely India Opal claims him, names him "Winn-Dixie" and takes him home to her hesitant father. After some convincing, her father finally agrees to let her keep him, after all, he does seem to have a smile on his face. But, they end up having to take him everywhere they go. If they leave him home in the quiet trailer park, his sudden barking as they are driving away, begins to disturb the neighbors. So he gets to go along with father and daughter. But even when India tries to tie him to a tree outside the building where her father is preaching, he barks. So, in he comes.  He soon becomes a hit with all after he chases a mouse across the front of the room. But when he brings this small critter back and drops it unharmed at the feet of her father, the congregation cheers and applauds for the dog. He is now a permanent resident of the church. But this is just the beginning for India and her devoted dog.

Next, she ends up going to the library where a very old lady appears to have almost fainted from behind the desk. When India asks what's wrong, the frail woman exclaims that she thought she saw a bear outside the window. India proceeds to go outside and bring her large dog into the library where she shows this tiny woman that Winn-Dixie is indeed, not a bear, but a very large dog. When India asks her why she thought it was a bear, the librarian tells her that it's a long story. India asks permission if she might keep her dog in the library while she listens to this tale. When this sweet, elderly Mrs. Franny Block notices the smiling dog, she can't help but abide. So, India has found another friend, one who is full of interesting stories of the area's past.

India Opal is also struggling with her mother's permanent departure from home and India cannot remember much about her. She's always thinking and wondering about her mother. Her father doesn't like to talk about her, so when India asks him to tell her ten things about her mom, he finally complies. What starts out as a simple factual list, ends with more information that India is able to compare to herself.  She often reflects on this short list and even compares herself with her dog, whom she says also doesn't have a mother. This is a very tender and sensitive, yet humorous book.  She, along with her dog, even befriend a man at a pet store, who appears to be very slow in his thinking and manners, who even recently was released from jail, yet she helps him become part of the community.

By the story's end, India has not only made many interesting friends, both young and old, but she's discovered that one homeless dog has brought her more friends and happiness then she ever thought possible. This heart-warming story will be great for any 10 to 13 year old, especially dog lovers.  But, parents, beware! After reading this book, be on the lookout for a stray to come your way.

"What! Cried Granny. An Almost Bedtime Story", by Kate Lum and illustrated by Adrian Johnson, is a story about an untypical grandmother. When young Patrick comes to stay the night with granny, he tells her he can't sleep because she has no bed for him. "What?" she cries. But does this stop her? No! She proceeds to get her carpentry tools out and build him a bed.  Soon, the bed is completed and now she tells him to lay his head down on his pillow and go to bed. But, alas, he tells her he doesn't have a pillow. "What?" she cries again. But, again, this doesn't stop her. So, she goes out to the henhouse and collects as many feathers as needed for a soft, down filled pillow. After cutting the cloth and stuffing and sewing the pillow, it's ready for his bed. But, as granny soon discovers, there are other needs that Patrick has, and she quickly remedies these problems so that Patrick can go to sleep. This is one innovative grandma and one that will have any 4 to 8 year old smiling all the way off to bed.

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