A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
MAY 9:

  • Happy birthday Richard Adams (Watership Down).
  • It’s the birth date of Sir James M. Barrie (1860-1937), Peter Pan; Keith Robertson (1914-1991), Henry Reed series; William Pène du Bois (1916-1993), The Twenty-One Balloons, Williams Doll; and Roger Hargreaves (1935-1988), Mr. Men series.
  • In 1887, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show opens in London. Read Buffalo Bill’s Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History by Joy S. Kasson and Bull’s-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley by Sue Macy.
  • It’s Lost Sock Memorial Day. Read A Pair of Socks by Stuart J. Murphy, illustrated by Lois Ehlert.

Born on May 9, 1906, in West Haven, Connecticut, Eleanor Estes worked in the New York Public Library until her first book, The Moffats, was published in 1941. Although she won the Newbery Award for Ginger Pye in 1951, Estes’s earlier book, The Hundred Dresses, has emerged as one of our most unusual and powerful classics.

In print since 1944, this eighty-page novel addresses one of our current societal concerns: bullying. Even when approaching this serious subject, Estes does so with a lightness of touch that has caused The Hundred Dresses to be used in classrooms from elementary through high school. In the thirty-two-page manuscript, Estes also tackles the subjects of social class and money. Louis Slobodkin added spot art and occasionally double-page illustrations. Winner of a 1944 Caldecott Medal for James Thurber’s Many Moons, Slobodkin draws a mere suggestion of the characters allowing readers to imagine other faces on them.

In The Hundred Dresses a group of fourth grade girls tease and torment one of their classmates, a poor Polish girl named Wanda Petronski who wears the same dress to school every day. But Wanda claims to have a hundred dresses. Peggy, a wealthy, cruel bully, encourages her sidekick, Maddie, to torment Wanda. Insecure and depending on Peggy’s hand-me-down clothes, Maddie acts in ways not consistent with her own sense of morality. She knows that harassing Wanda is wrong, but she does not want to alienate Peggy. Rather than telling the book from Wanda’s point of view, Estes focuses on Maddie. Consequently, readers see the effect of bullying on those who engage in it.

In the end, Wanda does possess a hundred dresses—ones she has drawn herself. And Maddie, feeling tremendous remorse, does not have a chance to apologize or make her actions right. She must now live with what she has done and her sense that she has not treated others as she herself would like to be treated. The reader feels guilt and remorse along with the main characters making this title a first choice for guidance counselors when addressing the issue of bullying.

The Hundred Dresses reminds us that childhood bullying is not a new phenomenon—and that those who seem different can become easy targets in classrooms. After all these years, it remains a three-handkerchief book—one that touches children emotionally as they confront its important and significant content.

Here’s a section from The Hundred Dresses:

Then the outer fringe of the crowd of girls would break away gradually, laughing, and little by little, in pairs, the group would disperse. Peggy, who had thought up this game, and Maddie, her inseparable friend, were always the last to leave. And finally Wanda would move up the street, her eyes dull and her mouth closed tight, hitching her left shoulder every now and then in the funny way she had, finishing the walk to school alone.

Peggy was not really cruel. She protected small children from bullies. And she cried for hours if she saw an animal mistreated. If anybody had said to her, “Don’t you think that is a cruel way to treat Wanda?” she would have been very surprised. Cruel? What did the girl want to go and say she had a hundred dresses for? Anybody could tell that was a lie. Why did she want to lie? And she wasn’t just an ordinary person, else why would she have a name like that? Anyway, they never made her cry.

As for Maddie, this business of asking Wanda every day how many dresses and how many hats and how many this and that she had was bothering her. Maddie was poor herself. She usually wore somebody’s hand-me-down clothes. Thank goodness she didn’t live up on Boggins Heights or have a funny name. And her forehead didn’t shine the way Wanda’s round one did.

Share

Originally posted May 9, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: School, Social Conscience
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Hundred Dresses
Share

COMMENTS

  1. RoccoA says:

    This was the first book Kay Vandergrift read to her kidlit class @ Columbia University in the ’70′s. Thanks for the memory of Kay & Wanda. It was a the first time Kay was teaching the course & she was replacing a famed Kid Lit Scholar @ Columbia. I am ashamed to say, I can’t remember the person’s name but ALSC did have an award named for this scholar but I wasn’t able to find it on their website.

  2. Anita says:

    Rocco: I think you must mean Dr. Leland Jacobs, who retired from Columbia around 1972.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

  3. I met Louis Slobodkin on a beach in Provincetown (what was I doing there? I have no idea) when I was four years old, and still have the book he gave me, The Seaweed Hat. Apparently we were quite taken with each other. You can see the book and his inscription here: http://www.slobodkin.org/books/target35.html

    Thank you for this tribute to another great book.

  4. Gail Terp says:

    Thanks, Anita. This has inspired me to write a post on books involving bullying. I’m planning on June 6. Gail

  5. G.Perry says:

    I thought this book was touching and thoughtful, and I loved the art.

    As I look out through oak tress at the rising sun, and I remember, and remember.

    The Hundred Dresses reminded me all over again that once upon a time, long ago, I received one pair of jeans at the beginning of each school year, and just how desperately I wanted to make sure every single person in the world knew I owned one nice thing,

    Each year, I would leave the new paper label on the back of the belt loops as long as I possibly could. Weeks, if I could get away with it. Kids kept telling me I forgot to take that darn tag off again, and of course I’d say “Oh gosh. I keep forgetting. Thanks.”

    And then there’s polishing the bottom of shoes because I was so worried about what kids and teachers would think of me if they noticed those stapled soles, and the black polish work I conjured up to hide it all. (Now white socks showing through those holes, that was the tough part.)

    I’m smiling warmly, shaking my head with compassion and pride for that boy now. You did great kid!

  6. Jude says:

    This was my hands-down favorite when I was in third grade. I always wondered if Wanda and her family were refugees from war-torn Europe, which might also have added to Wanda’s being bullied.

  7. Cathy Ogren says:

    I love this book! It’s one of my highly recommended books in our school library.

  8. McCourt says:

    This book was powerful to me as a child. I remember being so moved by the story and imagining those ‘one hundred dresses’. I even tried to draw my own one hundred dresses! I always recommend it to kids when I volunteer at the library. It is a great resource for the ongoing conversations about bullying. I think of this as the original ‘mean girl’ story, but told with such poignancy and care.

    I am usually a lurker, and truly look forward to reading the almanac each day. Thanks for this gem of a site and all the work it must take!

  9. Anita says:

    I just want to thank everyone for the comments today. It always inspires me to read people’s responses to a book. Thanks McCourt for posting for the first time. I certainly don’t mind lurkers, but I do enjoy hearing from readers.

  10. csawsal says:

    I’m 40 now and remember this book from when I was around 10. My teacher read it to us. I looked forward to the time she’d bring out the book (usually after P.E.) and I could continue where we left off the day before listening to this story. I was sad at how it ended…I loved our story time and this book is still a sweet memory.

  11. As I write this, The Hundred Dresses is here beside me.

    The story is indeed fabulous and the illustrations are so incredibly suggestive and discreet at the same time.

    This book has such a delicate topic for sensitive hearts and it is such a sensitive touch that “Slobodkin draws a mere suggestion of the characters allowing readers to imagine other faces on them”.

    Such is the feeling of the illustrator for the readers that he seemingly does not wish our young readers to see any ugliness with our eyes (at least).

    It’s a testament to The Hundred Dresses that the message is packaged in such a gentle package.

    Lovely choice!

    Read Aloud Dad

  12. JoAnn Jacobs says:

    This has always been one of my favorite books. Growing up and not really fitting in, I was very much like Wanda. The story will always be relevent regardless of how much time has passed. Thank you, Wanda for being my friend.

  13. Andrena says:

    Everytime bullying resurfaces in the national media – I often wish that they’d put a booklist on the screen and include this text. Reading stories like this to our children and discussing modern day application would go a long way toward peace in our world.

  14. Tess W. says:

    The amazing thing about this story is that for a project I once had to read only the text in the story without looking at the pictures. I typed the text into a word document and read it by itself. It was so amazing to me how powerful the words were, just the words alone! It’s a wonderful example of making a process as incredibly challenging as storytelling seem easy and effortless. Add Louis Slobodkin’s beautifully melting illustrations and, of course, it’s a beautiful reading experience.

  15. Lacey says:

    When I was in fourth grade, at the end of the year the teacher “cleaned house” by letting kids take home all the paperback books in the classroom. We took turns picking, with each of us ending up with about seven books. This book was one of the last remaining, and I picked it up without knowing anything about it (at age 10, my compulsion not to leave a free book behind had begun!). I read all those books within the first few days of summer, and this one, along with Marilyn Sachs’ “The Bears House,” really stuck with me. I remember how strange and melancholy both books made me feel; I wasn’t sure whether I *liked* the story or not, but even 20 years later, it’s clear I haven’t forgotten it.

  16. Erin says:

    Like Lacey says, I also wasn’t sure if I ‘liked’ this story or not. I read it for the first time for my Criticism class at Simmons, and the treatment of Wanda really bothered me. Nonetheless, I own a vintage copy of this book and I find myself looking at the pictures more than re-reading the text.

  17. Pamela Ross (@WriterRoss) says:

    This was a childhood favorite. Life imitated its art and I was constantly drawing dresses to be like Wanda. I remember the feel of the art in the book. It felt so distinct and sad and lonely, the images making us feel just as much an outsider as Wanda was. I have a few copies of this book in my home library. (Not 100..) I’ve been known to pass it on to others….

  18. Meagan Maher says:

    This book really resonated with me when I read it last semester for class. I am happy I got a chance to read this book, though I feel it’s even more important for children Wanda’s age to read it. It holds a powerful message of the consequences of what we say or how we behave.

    A great book!!

  19. Momo says:

    When I blogged about this special book recently someone – I don’t know who or where, wrote that there is a play of this book presumabily about to be shown? Like Wonder this book came from a real experience for the author and I think that is why is it such a heartfelt and powerful story.

  20. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    I read this book for the first time in a graduate course and I was fascinated by the idea Wanda has. Though she isn’t physically present in the tale, Wanda had the greatest effect on my imagination.

  21. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke says:

    I still think The 100 Dresses is one of the best books on bullying ever.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.