The Hundred Dresses

16 Jun

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I just read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I can’t take credit for the find because I found it on the “recommended” shelf at the bookstore (darn!). I’m glad I did see it there though because I’d never heard of it before and after reading it, I love it!

It was written more than 60 years ago and yet the themes are still so, so relevant. Especially now with all the focus on anti-bullying in schools. This is a great book to start off discussion about bullying and in fact is used in many schools for this very purpose. However, you could absolutely use it to talk about bullying with your kids at home, in homeschool, in a children’s book club, etc.

There are many lesson plans available about the book. It’d be easy to tweak what’s available and then build something that works in a Montessori classroom (it’d be perfect for a Lower Elementary class) or to get some ideas on discussion starters for the home.

The book centres around a poor, Polish girl named Wanda Petronski who comes to school wearing the same blue dress everyday. The other girls, led by Peggy and her friend Maddie, tease her each morning when Wanda declares that she has a hundred beautiful dresses hanging in her closest. After that, she is asked every day about those dresses.

 

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Peggy is the one who starts and continues this daily “hundred dresses game” but does not feel that she is doing anything harmful. Her friend Maddie, however, does not feel comfortable with the teasing and can sense that it is wrong, but does not say anything because she fears becoming the next target if she stands up for Wanda.

 

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Eventually, the truth about Wanda’s hundred dresses is revealed just when Wanda moves away. Her teacher reads a letter written by Wanda’s father about their reason for moving (“No more holler Polack. No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in the big city.”).

The story is so relatable and well-written. You can talk to your kids about bullying, but also about forgiveness and compassion as well. The illustrations are beautiful.

Besides starting discussions about bullying, compassion, caring for others, respecting differences, etc., you and your class/child(ren) can take it a step further and put the compassion into action:

  • Run a “Hundred Dresses Clothing Drive”
  • Fundraise for those who are less fortunate
  • Make an effort to include everyone
  • Art projects
  • Create a drama production based on the book
  • Practice how and when to speak up for yourself and others
…so many possible follow-up actions!

I can’t wait to share this with Freestyle when she is older!

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