Monday, October 8, 2018

The Hundred Dresses - Eleanor Estes (Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin)

Summary:  Wanda wears the same faded blue dress to school every day -- yet she says she has one hundred beautiful dresses at home, "all lined up." The other girls don't believe it, and when Peggy starts a daily game of teasing Wanda about the hundred dresses, everyone joins in.  Maddie, Peggy's best friend goes along with the game, but secretly wonders whether she can find the courage to speak up in Wanda's defense.

It's not until Wanda fails to come to school one day that her classmates learn the truth about the hundred dresses -- and Maddie and Peggy learn the meaning of kindness and generosity of spirit.  (Summary from book - image from )

My Review: The Hundred Dresses was given to me by my husband's aunt (a former elementary school teacher) with her hearty recommendation. As a Newbery Honor books (and a 80-page one at that), I thought it might be a good read-aloud book for a few of my kiddos, so I decided to sit down and "pre-read" it this week while they are on their end-of-summer backpacking trip with their dad. 

(Yes. A week of  potentially uninterrupted reading = *BLISS*).  But on to the review.

In The Hundred Dresses we meet three young school girls: Peggy, Wanda, and Maddie.  Peggy is a popular, well-to-do student, who isn't always kind.  Wanda, is a rather poor student, whose habit of wearing the same dress to school every day (all while making outrageous claims about the contents of her closet) makes her the target of much teasing.  Maddie follows Peggy's lead in tormenting Wanda, even though she doesn't feel quite right about it, because she doesn't want to become the target of abuse.  Then one day Wanda stops coming to school.  I'll leave it at that, so I don't spoil things, but needless to say, the girls learn a valuable lesson.

I imagine I'm not the only person who has regrets -- moments in life that I desperately wish I could take back.  An unintended slight.  An unkind act.  A flippant or cutting remark.  It makes me wince in shame when I think of who I have hurt with my careless behavior, though in many cases there is nothing I can do to take back what I said or undo what I did.  Well, Eleanor Estes wrote The Hundred Dresses because of her own regrets, and as the only way she could make up for being unkind to someone else in her youth.  I don't know about you, but knowing that, and knowing that this story is in some ways autobiographical, makes it mean so much more.  While I do think The Hundred Dresses will be a nice little read-aloud book for my kiddos when they get back, it is really so much more than that; it's bittersweet, easy to read children's book with a gentle reminder that we can all be a little more compassionate, generous, and forgiving with one another.  And, let's face it, young or old, that is a message we all need to hear.

Oh, and the illustrations are pretty good too.  I'm not an art critic, so I don't have the appropriate words to describe the artist's style, but the faces aren't particularly detailed, which seemed rather intentional so that readers can put themselves in the story.  With that thought in mind, whoever you might have been in the story before.... be an end-of-the-story Maddie today. 

My Rating:  4 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  This book was written in 1944.  The only thing I can think of that someone would find even remotely "offensive" is that the school had a contest where the boys designed outboard engines and the girls designed dresses.  My more-feminist side wrinkled its nose a little at the disparity, but it's perfectly appropriate within the setting of the story. 

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