Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: The Hundred Dresses

Book: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes; Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
Challenge Prompt: Read a book with pictures
Pages: 80

Eleanor Estes' Newbery Honor book, originally published in 1944, tells the story of three schoolgirls - Maddie, Peggy, and Wanda.  Wanda Petronski, who lives in the "low-class" area of Boggins Heights, tells her classmates that she has one hundred beautiful dresses in her closet.  Given that she wears the same faded blue dress to school every day, her classmates roundly mock and tease her for her "lie", in addition to her unusual last name.  When Wanda and her family move away, Maddie is forced to consider her treatment of Wanda and if she should have behaved differently towards her.

While this book is first and foremost a book about teaching children to be kind to each other, it also holds life lessons for adults.  Nearly half the book is devoted to Maddie's thoughts and actions after Wanda leaves; Maddie is wracked by guilt and a desire to atone for her actions, but atonement eludes her.  Finally, she concludes that "she was never going to stand by and say nothing again... she would never make anybody else so unhappy again."

Much of the time, we think that we leave behind petty insults and childish taunts in... well, childhood.  But as adults, I think we are simply more skilled at hitting the mark.  We may not mock someone else about their clothes or their last name, but we find the things that make them... them and pick on them for it.  But whether it's making fun of last names or driving a family to move because of repeated use of ethnic slurs, words hurt.

The old saying goes, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me."  But often times, words hurt more than physical injury - or at least they last longer.  I still remember mean things that were said to me as far back as elementary school, and while I know that the things said about me were not true, it doesn't mean they didn't hurt.

But I'm starting to get off topic here.  As you may be able to tell, this book has a message that hit close to home for me.  This book is easily accessible for children, but adults who choose to read it will also find a more complex story lurking under the surface.  At 80 pages, it's a short yet satisfying read.

One final note: Caldecott Medal winner Louis Slobodkin's illustrations are phenomenal and add a lot to the story.  It's worth getting the book just to look at the illustrations.

Final Recommendation: Absolutely, you should read it!  It's worth the small investment of time required to read it, and you'll probably find yourself coming back to it time and again.  I know I will!

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