Last week we looked at The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo—one of my favorite children’s book authors.

Her first middle-grade novel, Because Of Winn-Dixie, is the charming story of ten-year-old India Opal Buloni who has just moved to Florida with her dad, whom she calls “the preacher”—because he is one.

The story begins when India finds a smelly, stray dog running up and down the aisles of the Winn-Dixie grocery store, causing havoc. She adopts the dog, takes him home, and names him Winn-Dixie. And this leads to a series of adventures.

One of the things I like about this story is the way DiCamillo develops the theme of “the need for routine” vs. “the value of the unexpected”. Children need a safe, secure routine in life, of course. But in India’s case, that secure routine has been harshly interrupted by the move to Florida, the loss of her friends, and the by absence of her mother who left the family when India was three.

As the story unfolds, several unexpected things happen because of the dog, Winn-Dixie. Here’s one example. India talks her Dad into letting Winn-Dixie come to church on Sunday morning. And that works fine until a mouse appears in the church in the middle of the service. India tells what happened:

Well, Winn-Dixie saw that mouse, and he was up and after him. One minute, everything was quiet and serious and the preacher was going on and on and on; and the next minute, Winn-Dixie looked like a furry bullet, shooting across the building, chasing that mouse. He was barking and his feet where skidding all over the polished…floor, and people were clapping and hollering and pointing. They really went wild when Winn-Dixie actually caught the mouse…

 Winn-Dixie took the mouse over to the preacher and dropped it at his feet. And when the mouse tried to get away, Winn-Dixie put his paw right on the mouse’s tail. Then he smiled up at the preacher. He showed him all his teeth. The preacher looked down at the mouse. He looked at Winn-Dixie. He looked at me. He rubbed his nose. It got real quiet…”Let us pray” the preacher finally said, “for this mouse.” And everybody started laughing and clapping.

 Then India says: I prayed for my mama. I told God how much she would have enjoyed hearing the story of Winn-Dixie catching that mouse. I asked God if maybe I could be the one to tell her someday.

Again and again, as India tries to make sense of her life in the new town, it is Winn-Dixie who does something unexpected that breaks up the routine. But it is these interruptions that lead to surprising new experiences, new stories and new friendships—and these eventually become her new routine.

If there is a moral to the story it might be something like this: “By all means, kids do need a safe comforting routine. But once in a while it is the unexpected interruptions or surprises that can breathe new life into that routine.”