Book Review: The Hundred Dresses

          The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (author) and Louis Slobodkin (illustrator) is a children’s illustrative short novel about the connection between three little girls and the importance of empathy for others. Through the years since it was published, it is still considered a "timeless beloved classic." Having won the Newbery Honor Award, it inspired the new restored illustrations, showing the importance of thinking of others and the reality of their real-life situations to new readers today. The Hundred Dresses will introduce new readers to a personal story about caring for others, and to old readers the remembrance of the childhood experiences of Wanda, Peggy, and Maggie. 

          The story begins informing us that Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in Connecticut, did not show up to school for a few days. However, as the story continues, the reader finds out more about Wanda’s character and the possible untold reasons of her alienation from the rest of class, resulting in her loneliness. Wanda lives with her father and brother in a faraway neighborhood, where people have labeled it as a good place for picking flowers, but not decent enough to live in. Despite Wanda always wearing the same blue dress and dirty shoes to school, no one seems to care about the conditions that may have led to this: not the other children, parents, or even the teachers. Furthermore, her classmates enjoy ridiculing her while excusing their actions by simply stating that they are "having fun with her.” 

          As readers, we can reach Maddie and Peggy's perspective throughout the story. Maggie lives in a poor economic situation compared to the other children in the school. For the most part, Maggie shows certain levels of empathy, for she understands what Wanda is going through, in the sense of not having new clothes to wear for school. However, Maggie is also fearful of being alienated and ridiculed just like Wanda is, so she keeps her distance. Peggy, being the popular one in school, centers some key points of the story with her interactions with Maggie and Wanda, such as always questioning whether Wanda truly has 100 dresses in her house and the reasons Wanda wears nothing else besides her faded blue dress. 

          With the beautiful illustrations, which accompany the immersive narrative of the story, and the awareness that Maggie and Peggy are creating to Wanda’s wellbeing, The Hundred Dresses proves to be a great short illustrative novel that will help your kids to understand the importance of sympathy, empathy, appreciation, and ethics of care. These topics are important to understand and reflect the different emotions readers may have experienced during their childhood. This book provides us with a unique insight in a peculiar character, reminding us to never judge someone because we do not know the struggles they might be facing. I believe The Hundred Dresses is not about whether Wanda really had 100 dresses in her house, but the meaning behind why it was important for the other kids to acknowledge Wanda’s presence.