Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Hundred Dresses

written by Eleanor Estes
illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

Ages: 8-12 years (approximately grades 2-6)

The Hundred Dresses is a short tale of a young, foreign girl, Wanda Petronski, who misses school for a few days. Usually, nobody notices Wanda. She sits in the back corner and rarely makes a peep. That is until one day, she tells a group of girls who are admiring a classmate’s new dress that she has one hundred dresses at home. With this simple comment, Wanda opens a door to relentless taunting before and after class. Every day, Wanda’s classmates “have fun” with her by asking if she really has one hundred dresses at home. Hysterics ensue when she answers that yes, she does, “all lined up,” although she only ever wears the same faded blue dress that doesn’t fit her quite right. A girl like Wanda, with her funny name and ill-fitting dress, who lives on the wrong side of town, couldn’t possibly have a hundred dresses!

Each of Wanda’s classmates plays a role in the taunting, whether it’s asking Wanda about her dresses, listening to the interrogation, or completely ignoring the situation. It isn’t until the winners of a drawing contest are announced that Wanda’s absence is noticed and appreciated: the winner of the drawing contest is Wanda, who has drawn one hundred different, beautiful dresses! In an astonishing turn of events, Wanda’s absence is explained in a letter to the class in Mr. Petronski’s broken English- their family has moved to the big city where their Polish heritage will not be mocked, but perhaps accepted and even respected. Seeing Wanda’s hundred dresses and hearing her letter sets off a chain of uncertain repercussions for the main antagonists in Wanda’s taunting, leaving the reader to wonder whether Wanda has forgiven her classmates, or will forever hold them in disdain.

This short, classic, 1945 Newbery Honor tale resonates with all involved in the childhood interactions spectrum: the bullied, the bystanders, the adults privy to the bullying, and the bullies themselves. The deeper meaning and moral message of this story is delivered between the lines, which make it a wonderful choice for older readers to practice their critical reading skills. In fact, the gentle and simple way this lesson is portrayed makes this book a wonderful choice as a read-aloud to younger readers, or an interesting enticement for reluctant readers, as well. Those who enjoyed the newer title Jane, the Fox, and Me, will no doubt enjoy this tale as well. All around, The Hundred Dresses is a timeless tale that has endured the test of time with its resonating truth, and is bound to continue to do so for generations.

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