The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

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Our Score

“Everyone knows a Wanda.” I stole that from a recent Amazon review of The Hundred Dresses. Winner of the 1945 Newbery Honor Award, The Hundred Dresses has never been out of print. Why? Because it’s an ageless story about bullying.

Nineteen-forties America wasn’t familiar with cyber-bullying, but every generation has had to deal with sinful human nature, bullying being one of those sins. In this case, the bullying is among girls.

Wanda is a from a Polish immigrant family, she has a single father who’s doing his best to keep her clothed and clean and fed. But the wealthier girls in class notice Wanda wears the same blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses in her closet, and of course, everyone laughs. The ringleader never lets her off the hook and baits her constantly.

The book is written from Maddie’s point-of-view. She’s one of the more popular girls in class, and she wants to keep it that way, so she never crosses the bully. But she feels guilty about not standing up for Wanda, especially when Wanda suddenly moves away.

Based on a true story from Eleanor Estes’s childhood, The Hundred Dresses teaches children the world over the painful lesson of causing someone else’s hurt.

Pros

  • The entire story is a lesson in empathy. Our world needs more of it!
  • While targeted for girls seven to ten years old, it’s a great story to read to younger children, or to read aloud in a small group of upper elementary students. And while considered too juvenile, even junior high and high school students will get the universal message of “Love your neighbor.”

Cons

  • Because it was written more than half a century ago, the illustrations and style of language are dated. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. The language is perfectly understandable to any reader at a third-grade level (unlike Elizabethan English!), but if your child will only read a book with bright colors and high action, The Hundred Dresses is not his or her cup of tea.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever known a person like Wanda who was new and different and didn’t fit in with your classmates?
  • Maddie felt badly for Wanda. Why didn’t she do anything to help? Were her reasons good or bad? Why do you think so?
  • What did you think when Wanda sent Maddie one of her dresses?

Final Word

As you may have guessed from the last discussion question, Wanda really did have a hundred dresses! Each one was a beautiful creation.

 

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Linda Samaritoni
Linda Samaritoni, writing as Linda Sammaritan, has her feet firmly on the ground and her mind reaching for heaven. Each day is an adventure on her journey with Jesus. After a career teaching middle-graders, Linda loves to write contemporary stories for the same age group. She also loves to jot down spiritual ideas within metaphors. Check out her other blogs at www.lindasammaritan.com and www.puttingonthenew.com.

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