Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Hundred Dresses

written by Eleanor Estes
illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

There is something to be said about a book that has never been out of print since it was published in 1944.  A timeless classic that we can all learn from still to this day.  The Hundred Dresses was written by Eleanor Estes and was illustrated by Louis Slobodkin.  This book was a 1945 Newberry Honor winner. 
A story about an immigrant girl that didn’t fit in.  A story about the haves and the have- nots.  A story about remorse and the quest to find forgiveness.  This is a story about a girl who was picked on and a girl that didn’t have the courage to stand up and say it was wrong.
Wanda Patronski, her father, and brother were immigrants to the United States from Poland.  They lived in a small house in the country called, Boggins Heights.  “Boggins Heights was no place to live.”  Wanda didn’t have any friends.  She went to and from school each day by herself and she always wore the same faded blue dress that never quite hung on her properly. 
The kids in Wanda’s class were making fun on Wanda because she said she had one hundred dresses.  Clearly, she wore the same faded blue dress each day.  However, there was a drawing contest and Wanda submitted her one hundred dresses and won the contest.  She was not able to bask in the glory though because she had moved.  The principal brought the teacher a note and it read;
Dear Teacher:  My Wanda will not come to your school anymore.  Jake also.  Now we move away to big city. No more holler Polack.  No more ask why funny name.  Plenty of funny names in the big city..
                                                                                    Yours truly, Jan Petronski
Madeline is one of the girls who is part of the group that teases Wanda.  Although she struggles internally about what to do or say about the situation.  She recognizes that it is not nice, but she also realizes that if she speaks up, the taunting could turn to her.  Maddie tries to find Wanda before she moves to apologize but it is too late.  Maddie learned a difficult lesson and she was determined to find a way to apologize.  She writes her a letter to tell her about the contest and she apologizes.  In the end, she is forgiven. 
Helena Estes includes a letter to the readers in her mother’s book.  Many people want to know if this is a true story.  She says this book is based on both fact and fiction.  She also shared that her mother did know of a Polish girl in her school that wore the same dress each day and she was picked on.  Her mother “never forgot the little girl who had been so badly treated.  She herself knew what it was like to be poor as a child to always be cold in winter, to wear clothes passed down to her by her sister.”  Eleanor Estes always wondered how she could make things right.  This was how The Hundred Dresses came to be.  Eleanor’s feelings of guilt reign throughout the book.  “True, she had not enjoyed listening to Peggy ask Wanda how many dresses she had in her closet, but she had said nothing.  She had stood by silently, and that was just as bad as what Peggy had done.  Worse.  She was a coward.”
I enjoyed the illustrations by Louis Slobodkin.  They certainly are from the past, but they reminded me of the many books I looked at my grandparents’ house growing up.  It looks like they are water color. 
The language that Estes uses stands out in this book.  She is able to use a word or phrase to capture the emotions that go with the event.  “They saw Jack Beggles running to school, his necktie askew and his cap at a precarious tilt.”p6 “The girls laughed derisively, while Wanda moved over to the sunny place by the ivy-covered brick wall of the school building where she usually stood and waited for the bell to ring. P.13-14
This is a book we can all relate too.  One may be the person getting picked on, the one standing by saying nothing, or the one who is doing the teasing.  This is a heartfelt message felt by the reader.

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