The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses

by Eleanor Estes

illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

Harcourt Brace & Company, 1944

80 pp., 7 chapters

Age: 7 +

Interests: school politics, teasing & bullying, peer pressure, friendship, fashion, art

Also by this author: Ginger Pye, The Moffats, The Witch Family

Wanda Petronski wears the same faded blue dress every day to school, and lives in the poorest part of town. She sits at the back of the class, doesn’t say a word, and is generally ignored by her classmates. That is, until the day she tells them she has a hundred dresses at home, “all lined up in my closet.” After that the girls tease her, asking about the dresses every day, and laughing. Peggy and Maddie in particular indulge in the teasing, which they think is harmless fun. But when Wanda’s family suddenly moves away, and Wanda’s claims turn out to be true, in a way, Peggy and Maddie start to think about what their fun meant to shy, lonely Wanda.

This is a beautifully written meditation on the repercussions of schoolyard teasing. It is particularly interesting in that it focusses more on the teasers than on poor Wanda, on how they rationalize their actions, and how they come to terms with the consequences. Maddie feels the teasing is wrong, but hesitates about telling her very popular friend Peggy to stop. After all, Maddie’s clothes are almost as threadbare as Wanda’s, and she is fearful that the others may tease her instead.

A really wonderful book, understated and realistic in the way that children think and regard each other. There are a couple of nice surprises along the way, but there is no big dramatic moment of redemption, no face-to-face with Wanda, no “closure” as current lingo would put it. However Maddie and Peggy are obviously changed for the better – Maddie in particular resolves to always stand up for the underdog from now on.

Short and easy chapters make this a good chapter book for beginner readers, and the subject matter is perfect for anyone dealing with schoolyard politics. A book about outcasts, peer pressure, income disparity, prejudice against minorities, and the quieter, less dramatic kind of bullying: teasing and laughter. Despite the fact that this was written in the 1940s, it still resonates today. Highly recommended.

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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