Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

A Newbery Honor Book, Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses is a straightforward yet psychologically complex story about friendship and the ethical implications involved in standing by and saying nothing while another person is being harmed. Louis Slobodkin’s illustrations reinforce the message of this story, which is written in seven short chapters and narrated in the third person. Even very young children will be able to understand the premise of the story, while the adult who reads The Hundred Dresses to children will find the narrative both moving and substantial enough to compel his or her interest.

Wanda Petronski, whose Polish name sets her apart from her classmates as much as her address on Boggins Heights, the poor part of town, comes to school every day in the same faded, yet clean, blue dress. She sits in the last seat in the last row of her classroom, among the troublemakers, and is generally ignored by her teacher and by her fellow students.

The children pay attention to Wanda, however, after the day she claims to have one hundred dresses at home. Peggy, a privileged and popular girl, decides that it will be amusing to make fun of Wanda for this apparent lie, and Peggy’s friend Madeline, while uncomfortable with Peggy’s behavior, does nothing to stop it. Madeline is poor, although not as poor as Wanda, and fears that Peggy will turn her attention on her if she stands up for Wanda. After all, Madeline’s own dresses are castoffs from Peggy’s closet, and it would be painful and embarrassing to have Peggy point this out to everyone. Thus, while Madeline does not participate in mocking the other girl, she protects her own place in the classroom community...

(The entire section is 699 words.)