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The Hundred Dresses Paperback – September 1, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 411 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Wanda Petronski lives way up in shabby Boggins Heights, and she doesn't have any friends. Every day she wears a faded blue dress, which wouldn't be too much of a problem if she didn't tell her schoolmates that she had a hundred dresses at home--all silk, all colors, and velvet, too. This lie--albeit understandable in light of her dress-obsessed circle--precipitates peals of laughter from her peers, and she never hears the end of it. One day, after Wanda has been absent from school for a few days, the teacher receives a note from Wanda's father, a Polish immigrant: "Dear teacher: My Wanda will not come to your school any more. Jake also. Now we move away to big city. No more holler Polack. No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in the big city. Yours truly, Jan Petronski."

Maddie, a girl who had stood by while Wanda was taunted about her dresses, feels sick inside: "True, she had not enjoyed listening to Peggy ask Wanda how many dresses she had in her closet, but she had said nothing.... She was a coward.... She had helped to make someone so unhappy that she had had to move away from town." Repentant, Maddie and her friend Peggy head up to Boggins Heights to see if the Petronskis are still there. When they discover the house is empty, Maddie despairs: "Nothing would ever seem good to her again, because just when she was about to enjoy something--like going for a hike with Peggy to look for bayberries or sliding down Barley Hill--she'd bump right smack into the thought that she had made Wanda Petronski move away." Ouch. This gentle Newbery Honor Book convincingly captures the deeply felt moral dilemmas of childhood, equally poignant for the teased or the tormentor. Louis Slobodkin, illustrator of the 1944 Caldecott Medalist Many Moons, brings his wispy, evocative, color-washed sketches to Eleanor Estes's time-proven classic about kindness, compassion, and standing up for what's right. (Ages 6 and older) --Karin Snelson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Sensitive, intuitive, restrained . . . will take its place with the books that endure."--Saturday Review

"Written with rare intuition and pictured with warm sympathy and charm."--The Horn Book

"No young person . . . will ever forget it."--Book Week


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 6 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 4
  • Lexile Measure: 870L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; 1-Simul edition (September 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0152052607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0152052607
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (411 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I first read this book as a girl more than 40 years ago, and I still love it.
I've noticed something about this book that many reviews (and many of the lesson plans I've read) seem to miss, and I think it's an important point: This isn't the story of Wanda Petronski. It's the story of Maddie, an ordinary person who quietly assents to evil and then must live with her conscience. It's very tough stuff for young readers (and older ones), both deep and dark. I remember my own daughters finding it to be rough going emotionally, because Maddie's epiphany comes when the possibility of redemption is past, leaving her only with regret. This is unusual in children's fiction (and adults'), where the norm is for the central character--the character with whom the reader identifies--to be granted a second chance to make the compassionate choice. Estes quite deliberately, and, I think, properly, gave the book a real-life ending, where understanding occurs after the moment of truth has irretrievably gone by, and we realize that the next step, the step that occurs after the end of the story, is for the character and, by extension, the reader, to decide how to live her life from that point on.
Wanda is not, as far as we know, a Jew, but this is nevertheless a Holocaust story, as well as a Civil Rights story, a story about tolerance and compassion but also a story about how evil flourishes when people of good will do not speak out.
Estes is kind enough to her characters to allow Wanda the spirit and determination to rise above the rejection of her classmates, and to allow her to gracefully (but incorrectly) attribute the best of motives to Maddie and Peggy. In a way, though, her nobility makes Maddie's enlightenment even more bitter.
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Format: Paperback
Wanda is the poor motherless girl from Poland. By the author's description, you get the feeling that even if she doesn't have a perfect verbal command of English, she understands perfectly what is said to and about her and her shabby clothing.

Worlds apart is Peggy, the popular rich girl in her class. After Wanda makes an attempt to fit into a conversation by talking about her beautiful dresses, Peggy begins what seems like a game to her and taunts Wanda daily in front of a crowd of classmates about all of the beautiful dresses in her closet.

Bridging their world is Maddie, Peggy's best friend. While she isn't isolated by a language barrier and has Peggy's unspoken social protection, she is uncomfortably aware that her poverty makes her more similar to Wanda than Peggy. While Maddie gratefully accepts Peggy's castoffs, she is terrified of the power Peggy's generosity gives her. The daily game of picking on Wanda continually hardens Maddie's uncomfortable vulnerability; she is keenly aware that speaking out in Wanda's defense could put her in Wanda's place.

The "truth" is that Wanda does have 100 dresses, just not the kind Peggy has. The moment where Wanda shyly makes her fateful declaration is possibly the most poignant in the whole book. Of course she must have known that people would wonder why someone with so many beautiful dresses would always wear the same shabby one. Did she naively, hopefully think that someone would ask her about them and maybe let her into their world? Instead, she was met with nasty assumptions and taunting.

The book ends on a melancholy note. Maddie (and perhaps Peggy) become better people as a result of what happens to Wanda and her family, but Maddie (and the reader) are haunted by Wanda's unkown fate. Like Maddie, we can only hope for the best.
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Format: Hardcover
This sensitive story was written in 1944 and due to "human nature" things haven't changed one iota since then. It is the tale of one poor immigrant girl's way of coping with her poverty and the constant teasing she gets from other little girls at her school. The other girls are very materialistic and judge others by their clothing. It's not a pretty picture. The story is thoughtful and doesn't make the in-crowd clique of girls seem awful, only immature and insensitive. One of the girls even feels pretty bad about the teasing and harassing of the little Polish girl, but she doesn't come forward because she doesn't want to lose her own social standing. What I love about this book the most is that it is a wonderful opportunity for adults to talk with children about the insidious damage caused by teasing and singling others out. Let's face it most adults haven't really grown out of that way of behaving. Keep your ears open in a corporate lunch room some time. If we hope to make this a better world we need more books like this one and we need to actively teach our kids a better more loving way of being. We also need to help them stand up for their own gut-feelings of right and wrong instead of teaching them to go along with the status quo as we so often do by our own examples. The simple, straight-forward text and the beautiful, evocative yet simple illustrations make this story accessible and unforgettable. It can help you bring up an important topic and discuss it with your children. I recommend it for every parent and every teacher.
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