The Hundred Dresses

100-dresses.jpgToday, Lindsey shares a favorite chapter book -- a great pick to encourage summer reading and inspire thinking about relationships and kindness before the school year starts:

The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, might be my favorite early chapter book. Ever. And that is saying something. Estes' book, written 65 years ago, remains salient and touching, her messages of friendship, kindness, and standing up for yourself as important as ever.
The Hundred Dresses tells the story of Wanda Petronski, a quiet, poor girl who walks to school from the wrong side of the tracks and -- wearing the same clean but shabby dress every single day -- sits by the door of the classroom. Peggy, the most popular girl in school, and Maddie, her eager-to-please sidekick, make fun of Wanda over and over again. They tease her by asking how many dresses she has at home, and she always replies that she has 100 dresses in her closet. The teasing goes on and on, until one day Wanda doesn't come to school.

Wanda is absent for several days, during which she wins a drawing contest in the classroom. In one of the book's few dated details, the contest was for which girl could design and draw the best dress, and which boy could design and draw the best motorboat. The teacher announces that Wanda has won, and displays 100 beautiful color drawings of dresses all around the classroom. Suddenly, shamed to quiet, Peggy and Maddie understand about the life of the imagination and feel terrible remorse when the teacher reads aloud a letter from Wanda's father, announcing that they are moving to another town and citing the teasing of his daughter as one reason.

Maddie is the beating heart of this book. She goes along with Peggy's teasing of Wanda, even though she knows that it is wrong. She is also poor, she tells us, and feared that if Peggy stopped making fun of Wanda she might turn her sights on her. At the end of The Hundred Dresses, the girls' teacher reads aloud a letter from Wanda, which tells where she has moved to and asks that one particular dress drawing be given to each of Peggy and Maddie for Christmas. She turns to those who had hurt her and offers them pure kindness. Wanda's gesture shows the power of kindness: Maddie vows to herself that she will never stand by and say nothing when someone hurts another again.

The author's daughter writes a preface to this book explaining her mother's personal ties to the story. This is a beautifully illustrated, simply and elegantly told tale whose message will resonate for all children. I highly recommend it.