Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes & Illus by Louis Slobodkin

This is a classic book about bullying. About thoughtless bullying. I feel like this book couldn't really be written today, since bullying is such a hot button issue there is no way kids wouldn't know that their behavior was verging on bullying, if it wasn't outright bullying. 

Still it is a good book to use as a discussion starter about bullying. 

Wanda Petronski lives in a poor part of town, with a funny name, without a mother, and with a seeming cluelessness for when people are being mean to her. 

Wanda's house

Wanda was an easy target for teasing that quickly turned into bullying. 

When the girls were discussing party dresses, Wanda suddenly announced she had one hundred dresses at home in her closet. Despite the fact that she only wore the same blue one to school every day. 

Some of the girls could not let it rest. They egged her on everyday. 

"How many shoes did you say you have?" 


The girls who were not really truly mean were annoyed at Wanda. Why would she say a hundred?! It was obviously a lie. Didn't she understand that would open her up for way more teasing? 

Wanda did not seem to understand that. 

After Peggy had asked her a lot of incredulous questions, Wanda would be left alone. 

And finally, Wanda would move up the street, her eyes dull and her mouth closed tight, hitching her left shoulder every now and then in the funny way she had, finishing the walk to school alone. 

Wanda understood the girls rudeness. Yet, Estes describes Peggy as 

...not really cruel. She protected small children from bullies. And she cried for hours if she saw an animal mistreated. If anybody had said to her "Don't you think that is a cruel way to treat Wanda?" she would have been very surprised. Cruel? What did the girl want to go and say she had a hundred dressed for? Anybody could tell that was a lie. Why did she want to lie? And she wasn't just an ordinary person, else why would she have a name like that? Anyway, they never made her cry. 

So says the bully from their insular world with money enough for several dresses, mothers, and "easy to say" names. Wanda did lie, but Peggy couldn't see behind the lie to the girl trying to impress people in the only way she had. Peggy couldn't see behind the name to the girl that could have been a friend if anyone actually saw her. 

The pictures are... well, not me. But they do suggest movement quite well. 

Wanda declaring her ownership of a hundred dresses. 

Peggy best friend, Maddie wants to stop making fun of Wanda, but where to start? Wanda just opens herself up for teasing every day. The teacher calls on Wanda and Wanda just stands there and says nothing. Why doesn't she try?! If she would just be "normal" the problem would be solved and people wouldn't tease. 

Typical blame the victim thinking right there.

The school announces a drawing contest with girls designing dresses and boy designing motor boats. 

Wanda had drawn each and every one of her infamous "hundred dresses" and blown the competition out of the water. 

But suddenly, the girls noticed that Wanda hadn't been in school the past few days. The teacher announced that Wanda had moved. 

Peggy and Maddie want to atone for their sins, but there is no one to atone to. Wanda's house is empty. 

They wrote a letter to Wanda's old address hoping to would be forwarded. They meant to say they were sorry, but it turned out to be just a friendly letter. 

During this time, Maddie comes to the conclusion that she cannot stand by and let Peggy do what she did to Wanda to anyone else ever again. She had to make it stop, even if it meant losing Peggy. 

The girls anxiously await a letter, hoping that will absolve them from their careless cruelty. Maddie goes to sleep each night to dreams of saving Wanda from some disaster or standing up for her when the girls were teasing her. 

A letter finally arrives from Wanda to all the children in their room. Wanda tells the teacher to give Peggy and Maddie two of her drawings and tells the teacher she can keep the rest, since in her new house, Wanda has one hundred dressed lined up in a row in her new closet. 

It makes Maddie cry to think of Wanda being so nice when they had only been mean to her. 

Maddie is not freed from her involvement, but she realized her involvement. She realized the cruelty she had allowed to happen. Which was a beginning.

Wanting to be freed from involvement is a very natural reaction to uncomfortable situations. We don't like to think we have hurt someone else. It is a very hard concept we are dealing with with our pre-teen girls right now. When we are mean to someone else, and we say sorry, they should be fine with that, right? But that isn't how it works in real life. A "Sorry" doesn't wipe away pain, hurt, or anger. We need to think about what we do before we blunder along and assume everything will be fine as long as we say sorry. Because sometimes, much like this book, we don't have get the chance to say sorry. 

Live so we won't have to say sorry. Such an important lesson. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a touching, terrible story of hurt and the human condition. Important book.