The Hundred Dresses - Eleanor Estes
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.