These days, it is very rare that we come across children’s books that can be interesting and realistic at the same time. Many books are very much into magic, horror and fantasy and sometimes romance with a worldview of ‘love’, all of which usually catch the attention of young people. But the classics, while far from the trends of today, indeed remain to be set apart, still on the pedestal where they belong, touching the hearts of many from generation to generation.
We must admit, though, that even among the classics, the Devil still finds its way around to come up with works that must be avoided by the innocent minds.
Now I was not even born yet when this book was first published in 1944. Unfortunately, I never heard of it in my youth. Back then, I did not think and know that there are books that should be avoided and that we should be discerning about what to read, watch or listen to. So you see, it was such a delight to have discovered this while searching for books for my child who had outgrown her preschool favorites. I was instantly drawn to the plot and bought this book online.
I guess what warms me towards it, even after many years, is how common and real this story is, how it can easily happen in school to almost any person. It is something we can all relate to.
Indeed, a letter to the readers from Helena Estes, the daughter of the author, explains that this is based on her mother’s experience in school.
Cases of children being teased or bullied are not unheard of. Similarly, many of us may have experienced this in the past, being bullied, being the bully or even being both? At any rate, I have experienced being bullied. Back in the first grade, I had a seatmate who pinched me and deliberately broke my pink crayon for no reason at all. Being a timid kid that I was, I just cried and did not fight back. I remember not being able to answer when my teacher was asking me why I was crying. But years later, my seatmate surprisingly became a friend whom I enjoyed talking to once in a while.
Sometimes, as children, we say and do things that we do not really mean and when we grow older, we mature. And then when we remember our former actions, we regret them later on or we wish we could have done something to prevent them from happening. But it is a good thing that we have such feelings and insight rather than not learning from the experience at all. The Hundred Dresses seems to be a product of the realization of its author, indeed a realization that has brought us this wonderful masterpiece!
This story tugs the heart and hits the core because it is real. It is not merely about the mystery of the hundred dresses or about the secrets of the character of Wanda. It is about charity – and accountability. Long ago, I thought of charity as something that relates only to something material. But charity is used interchangeably with love in the Bible and saints use this to express this not just in giving alms, food or clothing to the poor but also when expressing kind words to others, when showing patience and kindness in our gestures and facial expressions towards others. We can become uncharitable even with our words. And how many times have we become uncharitable? I am sure quite a lot. This is a daily challenge.
In The Hundred Dresses, readers witness the value of charity in dealing with others especially with those who are different, weak or poor whether materially or spiritually. Forgiveness, as shown by Wanda, is also an act of charity. The story also highlights the importance of standing up for what is right and just, as shown in the character of Maddie, who opts to do the opposite – to be quiet (and regrets it later on) while Wanda is being humiliated and teased by others. Maddie’s character shows how our choices and actions impact other people – that there are things we can do to stop evil as it happens right before our eyes, but sadly, we sometimes choose not to. Maddie chooses to allow her popular friend Peggy to lead the rest in teasing Wanda mercilessly even when she knows it is wrong, to save her own skin, lest Peggie turns to her and she becomes the new target. If people like Peggy fail to realize their misdeed, then people like Maddie, who witness and clearly know their actions are wrong, have the responsibility to speak up and say so. But choosing to do what is right is not always easy, especially for young children, faced with the pressure of their peers from whom they also seek acceptance and approval.
Honestly, I can quite relate with Maddie and I remember being in similar situations, having similar regrets – and having similar resolutions. That is why it is necessary for us to ask for forgiveness, not just for the bad things we have done, but also for the good things we have failed to do. For God will hold us accountable for both.
I have such high respect and gratitude for the author, who has generously shared this story based on her own, as a brave act of humility and charity. Has she realized, I wonder, how much her readers have learned from her story? Indeed, hers has left gems of learning that cannot help but echo in one’s soul.
It is also worthy to mention how the interesting illustrations and sketches of Louis Slobodkin perfectly complement the story with class. Children will surely be in awe as their imagination soars.
As this story is a popular Newberry Honor Book, it is likely that many already share my deep affection for this book. But I am certain there are still those who have not even heard of it. If you are one of the latter, then do not miss the chance. An easy read, this is suitable for the entire family. Read this to your children and certainly, you will dig a hundred treasures to cherish from this story.
To God be the Glory!
(initially posted 2014; edited)