The Hundred Dresses
by Eleanor Estes
This thin, 1944 book by the author of The Moffats
and Ginger Pye
was a Newbery Honor Book, and it glows with the illustrations of award-winning book artist Louis Slobodkin. For a very short chapter book (only 7 brief chapters), it packs an emotional wallop. And the emotions that it mostly conveys are Shame and Regret.
The story starts when Wanda Petronski stops coming to the school where nobody was her friend and the few girls who even talked to her, teased her because of her ridiculous claim to have a hundred dresses and sixty pairs of shoes in her closet. After all, she always wears the same shabby clothing, and she lives on the wrong side of the tracks, and she has a funny last name.
The two girls at the center of the story are Peggy and Maddie. Peggy is the one who started the ongoing game of teasing Wanda about her fabled hundred dresses. Maddie, Peggy's best friend, also comes from a poor family and is too afraid of being the next one picked on, to do anything to stop Peggy. And on the very day that Wanda's 100 dresses turn out to be real--in an unexpected, marvelous way--Classroom 13 finds out that Wanda won't be coming back. Her family has moved away to where they won't be shunned and mistreated because of their funny last name.
The guilt and grief that Maddie feels, and what she and Peggy do about it, and what happens when Wanda answers their letter telling her how lovely they thought her hundred dresses were, form the rest of this deeply sad tale. For Maddie and Peggy, and for every occasionally-thoughtless child who should read this beautiful little book, there is a bittersweet lesson to be learned. Stripped of all melodrama and flowery phrase, this story does not manipulate your feelings--but if you have any feelings, it will touch them.
Recommended Age: 8+
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