The Hun­dred Dresses - Eleanor Estes

The Star (St. Lucia) - - BOOK REVIEW - By Clau­dia Elei­box

The Hun­dred Dresses has in­scribed it­self into all the nooks and cran­nies of my mem­o­ries from be­ing a lit­tle girl. I re­mem­ber first read­ing this book and feel­ing so heart­bro­ken for the cen­tral char­ac­ter. The young Pol­ish girl Wanda Petron­ski re­minded me of other young girls at the school I was at­tend­ing; young girls who were be­ing made fun of be­cause of their clothes, the way they looked and spoke, the places they lived. And in Saint Lu­cia you can’t es­cape your name be­ing a source of amuse­ment.

I rem­i­nisced a lit­tle last week while re-read­ing this pre-teen book. There must be a Wanda Petron­ski in ev­ery school around the world. The Hun­dred Dresses was pub­lished over seventy years ago but the story and writ­ing pos­sess an ev­er­last­ing qual­ity.

Wanda Petron­ski was a Pol­ish girl who lived with her fa­ther and brother in Bog­gins Heights, Con­necti­cut. Her home was quite a walk from the school, which caused her feet to be muddy by the time she ar­rived there. One of her class­mates said that her dirty shoes was the rea­son her seat was in the back of the class, which made her even more un­no­tice­able than she al­ready was. Wanda re­ceived some at­ten­tion in class when the teacher called out the at­ten­dance list and her pe­cu­liar sur­name caused some gig­gles. She was also ridiculed, not for wear­ing the same faded, blue dress to school ev­ery­day, but be­cause she claimed to have a hun­dred dresses at home.

Ac­cord­ing to Wanda, her dresses were of ev­ery style and fash­ion and she owned ones suit­able for ev­ery oc­ca­sion and time of year. Her class­mates knew bet­ter; although it was al­ways clean, Wanda wore the same dress ev­ery day.

Peggy, the pret­ti­est girl in school, some­times waited at the school gate for Wanda, just to have a dose of laugh­ter, but Mad­die al­ways lis­tened in si­lence and was the one who no­ticed Wanda was no longer com­ing to school. She was poor her­self and didn’t want to make fun of Wanda but nei­ther did she want to bring at­ten­tion to her­self. It wasn’t un­til a class “dress” com­pe­ti­tion that the girls learned that Wanda Petron­ski (who had been miss­ing for a while) did ac­tu­ally have a hun­dred beau­ti­ful dresses. It just wasn’t in the way that they ex­pected. Peggy and Mad­die re­ally wanted to cel­e­brate with Wanda her vic­tory in the com­pe­ti­tion, and felt pro­found sad­ness when they ar­rived to an empty Petron­ski house in Bog­gins Heights. They could never apol­o­gize to poor Wanda for be­ing un­friendly . . . or so they thought.

The Hun­dred Dresses is an un­com­pli­cated read but its mes­sage is bold and universal, mak­ing it suit­able for any age. The six­ti­eth an­niver­sary edi­tion is a re­fresh­ing re­work of the 1940s short novel, com­plete with colour­ful il­lus­tra­tions. It’s one of those books that will surely take a spot in your heart and make you want to save a copy to pass on to your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

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