The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Let’s talk about The Hundred Dresses. As a teacher, this was the first chapter book that I read aloud to my students each year. We’d talk about kindness, being an upstander, being a bystander, standing up for ourselves, forgiveness, empathy, socio-economic diversity, preconceived notions, and so much more. As a parent, I vowed to read The Hundred Dresses aloud to our girls before school started each year, once they were old enough to sustain attention for a chapter book read aloud. I read The Hundred Dresses with our older daughter last summer, before she started first grade, and we started to reread it with both girls just this week, to gear them up for their upcoming school years. So why do I love this chapter book enough to reread it yearly with my students and now my girls?

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Written in 1944 and winner of a Newbery Honor Medal, The Hundred Dresses has stood the test of time. Inspired by a true story from the author’s childhood, this is the story of three girls in the same class at school. Wanda wears the same old dress to school every single day, but claims to have a closet full of 100 beautiful dresses at home. Peggy and Maddie, classmates of Wanda’s, are best friends. Peggy lets it be known that she doesn’t believe Wanda has those dresses; Maddie struggles with wanting to go along with Peggy to continue being liked (and even accepted) but also wanting to stand up for Wanda.

Without giving away the ending, which has been known to make many an adult cry, you should know that The Hundred Dresses is also a story of regret and forgiveness. Reading this book encourages readers and listeners to dig in and reflect on their own choices in similar situations, and what they might do if they stood in each of these girls’ shoes. Y’all, this one is chock full of so many important interactions and actions (or lack thereof)!

Beautifully written and deeply insightful, The Hundred Dresses leads to so many possibilities of conversations about right and wrong and the choices we make as we interact with others and grow. The multi-faceted nature lends it incredibly well to rereads, as depending on your social-emotional growth and personal experiences, you’re bound to focus on something different with each reading. You will undoubtedly come away from this yearning to be a better person every single time.

Though The Hundred Dresses is a chapter book, it’s a quick read with illustrations. Publishers recommend for ages 6-9, but it can be read with “seasoned” younger listeners and is absolutely appropriate for older audiences, too. And no, it’s not just for girls!

If you liked this, you might also like Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken, and Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis.

What chapter book do you love to reread with your children or students because of its powerful social-emotional lessons?

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