Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Hundred Dresses

My kids are getting to the stage where they love chapter books. We read (well, I read and they listen) to 2-3 chapters a day.  So, we go through a lot!  They would be happy for me to read the Magic Tree House books to them all the time. We have tons of those (thanks to a great friend donating to us his whole collection).  But, those books are so formulaic that my English-major education can only take them in small doses. 
So, I insist on reading other books too, as many as possible in the original, unabridged format.  To get ideas of titles, I ask my friends, scour homeschooling blogs, and I have looked at some curriculum (Sonlight, My Father’s World) which has some great ideas.  Then, I borrow as many of those titles as I can from the library.  Some of these I have heard of, but many are completely new to me.
Recently we read The Hundred Dresses by Elanor Estes.  I had never heard of this book, so it was a treat for me too.  The plot is very basic.  Two girls in a glass pick on Wanda Petronski, who is poor and wears the same dress to school every day.  They tease her and ask her how many dresses she has at home, and she always tells them she has a hundred dresses at home.   They know this cannot be true, but continue to tease her about it.
Wanda’s Dad eventually decides to pull her out of school because she is teased about the dresses and about being poor.  Her Dad also takes offense to people teasing her because of her Polish name.  So, she moves away.  The two main character girls feel guilty, try to find her to apologize, then write her a letter to make amends. 
We actually really enjoyed this book.  It was written over 60 years ago, so the language was more formal then modern, cookie-cutter juvenile books.  Catherine’s concentration and listening skills have improved immensely and she does a great job of listening to books I read and asking me to define any words she doesn’t know. 
In this book she asked about “drizzled,” “nudged,” and “incredulous.”  Her questions encouraged fabulous vocabulary lessons and we ended up demonstrating “nudged” and “drizzled” several times a day, as well as frequently thinking up examples of “incredulous” statements.   I love when I see evidence that they have learned things I taught them.  For example, out of the blue Sabrina will say “We are going to Pluto on a field trip.  That is an incredulous statement.”  Or Catherine will walk over to me and push my leg with one finger, telling me she is “nudging me.”
The book also used the term “pick on” when discussing what the girls did to Wanda.   I tend to assume that children now everything, and had no idea that they didn’t know what that meant until Catherine asked what it meant.  This was a great impetus for a discussion about the difference between friendly teasing v. picking on.  Sabrina told me that she doesn’t like it when I call her “Sabrina-rina,” which we have all done for years.  She has never complained about that before, but during this discussion she told me she didn’t like it.  So, I agreed to stop calling her by that term of endearment.
Another “moral lesson” which we touched on with this book is prejudice.  The picked-on girl is named “Wanda Petronski” and there were a few references to the fact that she is Polish.  The kids teased her for having a funny last name.  The book states that all the other children in the class had last names like Allen, Smith, etc. 
Prejudice towards people of Eastern European descent, fortunately, seems like such an archaic concept.  But, the girls and I talked about how there was a time in American history when a lot of Eastern Europeans came to America as immigrants and experienced prejudice.   That of course led to a discussion of what “prejudice” is.   Lots of great discussions started by this book!
The plot is fairly simple and there is very little “action” in this book.  There are just a handful of characters.  The book has seven chapters and is about 70 pages long.  The illustrations are plentiful and colorful.  We were able to read this book in less than a week, at a rate of two chapters a day.  I am not sure if a boy would be interested in this, because the main characters are all girls and the point of the book is the moral lesson that you should not pick on other people. 
There were a lot of references to dresses, such as what dresses each girl wore, what kind of dresses they drew pictures of, etc.  My girls are budding fashionistas, so they loved all those references.

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