Blanchard Elementary picks up book for schoolwide project

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Because of Winn-Dixie, students at a local elementary school will curl up next to their parents at night and listen to a story about a girl and her dog.

Because of Winn-Dixie, those same students will have an egg salad party and bring their pet pooches to school one day this month. In the process, they'll learn a little bit about the world they live in and the different kinds of people who live here with them.

For the second year in a row, Blanchard Elementary will hold its own schoolwide version of the national United We Read program.

This time, it's Kate DiCamillo's award-winning book "Because of Winn-Dixie" -- a story about 10-year-old Opal, who moves with her father, "the preacher," to a new town in Florida and finds unusual friends with the help of a stray dog named Winn-Dixie.

Teachers just started handing out books Monday, but already students are curious about the story.

"My students wanted to know if there were sad parts or happy parts," said Mary Ann Lewis, a first-grade teacher who helped choose this year's book. "They get so excited and that just builds as they read the book."

Lewis said the biggest benefit of the annual schoolwide read is that it encourages parents to read aloud to their children.

"As parents, sometimes we think that reading aloud is just something warm and fuzzy we do when kids are in kindergarten or first grade," said Lewis. "But it's really important to do that even with third- or fourth-graders, because it increases their vocabulary and writing abilities."

Social issues"Because of Winn-Dixie" also addresses social issues that are timely for elementary children, such as alcoholism and single-parent families.

"I think kids will relate to this story," said Blanchard principal Dr. Barbara Kohlfield. "It's not your typical fairy tale ending. But we know life's more complicated than that."

Students in kindergarten through fourth grade are receiving copies of the 182-page book this week, and the school will hold an official reading kick-off assembly Monday.

Enough books were purchased with the school's Title I federal funding to send a copy home for each family to read Feb. 8 to 14. After that, guest readers will come to the school and re-read the book with students.

Blanchard librarian Sandra Cook, who helped choose "Because of Winn-Dixie, said the story is one that students of all ages will take an interest in.

"Almost any animal story appeals to kids," said Cook. "It's one parents can read and we think they'll enjoy too."

To conclude the experience, students will be allowed to bring their dogs to school Feb. 19. A reenactment of a party in "Because of Winn-Dixie" will take place Feb. 20.

Last year, Missouri fourth- through eighth-graders chose "Because of Winn-Dixie" as their favorite book out of 20 nominations, making it the Mark Twain Award winner for 2003. The182-page book has also been named a Newbery Award winner and a New York Times best seller.

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