Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses is another beautiful book that my daughters and I could hardly bear to put down each day. Written over sixty years ago, this story has never been out of print, and for good reason. It was based on the true story of the author’s classmate many years before, teased and despised for her foreign-sounding name, quiet manner, and poverty. Ms. Estes once explained that she felt terrible over what the girl endured at the school, and after the classmate had moved away, always wished she could make amends. The closest she could come to that, she remarked, was to write her story.
And what a powerful story it is. I wondered if my daughters, at just five years old, could fully grasp the impact of idle words, much less the devastating consequences of staying silent while observing cruelty in front of you. I was wrong to be concerned. They fully understood the book, begging each day for another chapter, hoping against hope that all would be resolved in the end. We had wonderful, important conversations about compassion, about opening our eyes to see beyond our own noses, about fighting cruelty with kindness. We talked about how they could show real love to kids they might meet at the park or at church or playing in the neighborhood. We role-played the various characters and examined their motivations and discussed how their regret after the fact could never erase the consequences of their actions (or inaction). We opened this book to read a good story and by the time we closed it we had gained valuable character training.
The illustrations, beautifully created by Louis Slobodkin, are found frequently throughout the book. The style of the illustrations complements the style of writing perfectly and keeps young children fully engaged with the story as it unfolds.
This books is a great story and a valuable tool in teaching your children compassion and kindness. I highly recommend it and am sure your family will enjoy it as much as mine has!