What you need to know:
• The Hundred Dresses tackles bullying and discrimination in a straightforward manner.
• Although it was written more than 60 years ago, the topic is still very relevant today.
• While the reading level is Reader Junior, the message in this book is appropriate for any reading level.
• It was a Newbury Honor Book in 1944.
• This meaningful book has often been used in school lesson plans.
• Look for other award winning books by Eleanor Estes including The Moffats and Ginger Pye.
• An excellent read aloud, The Hundred Dresses is a perfect starting point for conversations on being a good friend
and understanding differences in people.
Sweet Book Summary:
Maddie is distraught. She knows that she’s done something wrong but is it too late to fix things? It all starts with her best friend Peggy and a girl at school named Wanda Petronski. Wanda is a quiet girl who wears the same dress to school every day. She lives on the wrong side of town and has an unusual sounding name. One day, when a group of girls admire another girl’s new dress, Wanda speaks up. Until that moment, she had been invisible, standing in the group, but never a part of it. Now, with just a few words, claiming to have one hundred beautiful dresses in her own closet, she suddenly becomes the center of attention. Sadly, Peggy, the most popular girl, starts a game where they “politely” tease her about her “supposed” dresses. Maddie, Peggy’s best friend, goes along with the game, but wishes they would stop. She’s afraid to speak up, though, because she is poor also and is worried that she’ll be the next target if she says something. It isn’t until she sees the one hundred beautiful dresses that Wanda drew for a contest at school, that Maddie decides to take action and make things better. Unfortunately it is too late, as Wanda’s family has moved away to avoid the discrimination they had been facing in their current situation. Maddie does some serious thinking and concludes that standing and watching someone do something wrong is just as bad as doing it, and even more important, it is cowardly. In the end, she can’t make things right with Wanda so, she writes to her at her old address and hopes it will be forwarded there. Whether or not Wanda receives the letter, she has made a lasting impression on Maddie and Peggy and hopefully on the reader as well.
The Hundred Dresses is based on a true story, as the author describes having witnessed a similar situation at her own elementary school. She wrote her account of the young girl’s mistreatment, as Maddie wrote her letter, to try to make amends for what had happened. A book that continues to thrive and enlighten children, more than 60 years after it was first published, is quite an achievement. Maybe it still resonates because it was based on a true story and nothing beats reality. Perhaps it is because Estes’ straightforward writing style continues to appeal to kids today. The basic schoolyard conflicts that are the subject of The Hundred Dresses remain relevant today, although they are intensified by current technology. The characters and the problems that they face are easy to relate to and their conflict resolution process is easy to follow. The whole book follows one storyline and Estes does not include a lot of superfluous information. At the same time she makes very clear how the girls are feeling and what they are thinking. This simple story can, therefore, still be useful today in helping kids to learn how to better handle their own difficult situations. At the same time, it is a touching, beautiful story to read and simply enjoy. One point of note, there is no mention of the girls’ ages and it is difficult to determine exactly what they are, possibly because it was written so long ago. There are also plenty of delicate illustrations that will engage readers throughout the book. Estes does not “dumb down” her writing so although this book can be read by younger readers, be aware that there may be some challenging words, like askew, precarious and disconsolate. Hopefully, young readers will learn more than a few new vocabulary words; hopefully they will come away with a greater understanding of friendship, compassion and how to treat other people.
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