Children can be thoughtlessly cruel just to have what they think is a little fun. We probably all remember incidents from our school days when popular girls or boys teased individuals who were not fashionable or were in some other way different. Others went along with the teasing. Such is the case in the children's classic The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. Peggy and Maddie notice that shy Wanda wears the same blue dress to school every day. When confronted by Peggy, Wanda claims that at home she has a hundred dresses and describes them. As Peggy asks Wanda each day about the dresses, Maddie feels increasing guilt but never says anything to stop Peggy. Then Wanda quits coming to school. Maddie wonders if they have driven the girl away.
There is a fine line between teasing and bullying, and bullying is a hot topic in education and parenting circles these days. Every few weeks there seems to be a story about a teen who commits suicide to escape relentless bullying. Prevention efforts need to start at an elementary level, which is why books like The Hundred Dresses are important. The book seems a bit old-fashioned and the story develops slowly, but I believe it could still be effectively used with some elementary students. National Public Radio agrees and chose the old book for its Backseat Book Club for young readers and their parents. NPR paired it with Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai in February. Click here to learn more about the club.
Estes, Eleanor. The Hundred Dresses. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1944.