Skip to main content

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin 80 pp RL2







The Hundred Dresses, written in 1944 and winner of the Newbery Honor, performs the amazing feat of teaching a "life lesson" without being didactic and dull. I put the phrase "life lessons" in quotes because it is  phrase that has been introduced into children's literature in the last generation or so and it rubs me the wrong way sometimes. I'll be honest, I loathe children's books that set out to teach "life lessons." Most celebrity authored picture books, besides the poor writing, are frequently moralistic and teach-y and advertise their "life lessons" right on the cover. While I do think that there is a book (or three) in the world that can address any and every life issue, I think that the value of the book lies in the ability of a book to capture an experience, to craft it into a story and to make you feel and think things that you didn't before you read it. In my experience, children's books that propose to teach a life lesson are devoid of these qualities. 


The Hundred Dresses tells the story of Polish immigrant, Wanda Petronski who wears the same faded but clean dress to school every day and is made fun of when she tells her classmates that she has one hundred dresses in her closet at home. When the winners of the class drawing contest are announced, the children learn that Wanda really did have one hundred dresses - one hundred drawings of dresses - and that she has won the competition. However, she cannot collect her medal because her family has moved to the big city. Mr Petronski sends a note to Miss Mason, the teacher, telling her that in the big city, "No more holler Polack. No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in big city."


Although Wanda is the center of the story, what makes this book work is the fact that it is told through the eyes of Maddie, a conscientious classmate of Wanda's who goes along with the teasing, initiated and driven by her friend Peggy. The thoughtfulness and realizations that Maddie has as the story progresses are simple but powerful. And the ending wraps up the story in a bittersweet but satisfying way.


Comments

Jeremy said…
Hey, I wanted to thank you for this recommendation as well -- I read it to the girls as a bed-time story over a couple of nights and they really enjoyed it. Charming and with a great message (without being too preachy).

Popular posts from this blog

The Seeing Stick, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela J Terrazini

The Seeing Stick is an original Chinese fairy tale written by the prolific (and prolifically award winning) Jane Yolen. First published in 1977 with illustrations by Remy Charlip (author and illustrator of the brilliantly fun picture book Fortunately and friend and muse to Brian Selznick, who asked him to pose as George Méliès while he was working on the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Seeing Stick was reissued with new illustrations by Daniela J. Terrazini in 2009. I have not seen Charlip's version, but Terrazini's is a beautiful work of art and the book itself is yet another magnificently packaged book published by Running Press, the house that brought us Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling, yet another superbly and uniquely packaged children's book with artwork by Terrazini. Interestingly, both The Wikkeling and The Seeing Stick were designed by Frances J Soo Ping Chow.

The Seeing Stick begins, "Once in the ancient walled citadel of Peking there l…

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!

Be…