Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Summary: The Hundred Dresses is a story based in the true experiences of the author about a girl who is teased by her classmates because she is different. Wanda Petronski, a girl who comes from the poor part of town, is the only student in her class with a 'funny' Polish name. She is always quiet and she always wears the same faded blue dress to school everyday, although she claims she has a hundred dresses at home "all lined up in her close." 
The story is told from the perspective of one of Wanda's classmates, Maddie, who is the best friend of the main player in the daily taunting and teasing. After Wanda is absent for a few days, her classmates learn that her family has moved away to the big city where they will not be mistreated for being different. Maddie begins to wonder about the girl she and her friends used to constantly tease, and realizes that she knows very little about her. She begins to wonder why they started teasing her in the first place and is overcome with guilt for making fun of her simply because she is poor and has a funny name and is different from them. Maddie knows that she should have stood up to her friends and defended Wanda. She feels guilty for not speaking up, for standing by and allowing her friends to tease Wanda.
Maddie and her friends later discover that Wanda is a very talented artist, and that her  drawing of one hundred beautiful dresses has won the school's art contest. The girls realize that they misjudged Wanda, and feel incredibly guilty for never believing her stories of her "one hundred dresses." In the end, the girls write a letter to Wanda, hoping to make amends, and they are pleasantly surprised by her willingness to forgive.

How to use this book: The book The Hundred Dresses could be used in many different ways in the classroom. The message of acceptance and of not teasing someone for being different is a valuable lesson for students of all ages and could be used in upper or lower grades. Another idea that should be introduced in the classroom is that Maddie stood by and did not speak up when she knew that her friends were doing something wrong. Most students have probably had similar experiences and could benefit from a reflective activity such as journal writing.   I would also use this book in the upper grades  to begin discussions getting into the issues raised about economic and cultural differences. 

Social Justice Education: 
2. Respect for others: This book addresses the importance of respect for others by presenting the lessons learned by the characters in the story. First by the characters' lack of respect for others, then later they begin to demonstrate respect for others when they realize that although Wanda is poor and Polish, she is really no different from them.
3. Exploring Issues of Social Justice: The issues of racism and classism are confronted in this book through Wanda's negative experiences in school, and, because we learn that Wanda's whole family moves to the big city to avoid being ostracized, we can understand that the issues are much larger that than just bullies at school.

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