The Hundred Dresses

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The Hundred Dresses
Cover with original design (post-1970, with "Newbery Honor" seal)
AuthorEleanor Estes
IllustratorLouis Slobodkin
Cover artistSlobodkin
GenreChildren's literature, realistic fiction
PublisherHarcourt, Brace[1]
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)

The Hundred Dresses is a children's book by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, published in 1944. In the book, a Polish girl named Wanda Petronski attends a Connecticut school where the other children see her as "different" and mock her.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

The book centers on Wanda, a poor and friendless Polish-American girl. Although her grades are very good, she sits in the worst seat in the classroom and does not say anything when her schoolmates tease her. One day, after Wanda's classmates laugh at her Polish last name and the faded blue dress she wears to school every day, Wanda claims to own one hundred dresses, all lined up in her closet in her worn-down house. This outrageous and obvious lie becomes a game, and the group of girls in her class, headed by Maddie and Peggy, mock and corner her every day before school demanding that she describe all of her dresses for them. Her father, Jan Petronski, reveals that due to the constant discrimination directed at his family they must leave town.

The teacher holds a drawing contest in which the girls are to draw dresses of their own design. Wanda enters and submits one hundred beautiful designs. Her classmates are in awe of her talent and realize that these were her hundred dresses thus leading the students to believe Wanda. The students who teased her feel remorse and want her to know this, but they are not sure how. They decide to write her a kind letter and send it to her old address, hoping the post office can forward it. Unfortunately, she has already moved away and does not realize she won the contest.[4]

Nevertheless, Wanda's lovely nature, kind heart, and forgiveness are revealed later when she tells the teacher to give the students the drawings.


It was a 1945 Newbery Honor book.[5] A 2004 study found that it was a common read-aloud book for third-graders in schools in San Diego County, California.[6] Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association listed the book as one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."[7]

The Hundred Dresses" by Eleanor Estes has come under scrutiny due to a critical article written by Ewa Thompson in November 2020.[8] Thompson, a Professor Emerita of Slavic Studies at Rice University, argues that the book, despite its recognition by the National Education Association and inclusion in the "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children," perpetuates negative stereotypes and denigrates Polish Americans. According to Thompson, the portrayal of Wanda Petronski, a third-grader and daughter of a Polish immigrant, raises concerns about cultural insensitivity and patronizing attitudes. Thompson highlights that the character's father is depicted with poor and coarse English, reminiscent of stereotypes, and Wanda is subject to relentless bullying by her classmates.

Thompson contends that the narrative reflects a sense of superiority reminiscent of past racial attitudes, drawing parallels between the treatment of Wanda and historical mistreatment of marginalized groups. The article criticizes the portrayal of Wanda as passive and unable to stand up for herself, suggesting that her feelings are not articulated or explored in the story. Thompson also questions the book's inclusion in educational curricula, especially considering its potential impact on Polish-American students and others of non-Germanic, Central European backgrounds.

The controversy extends beyond the narrative to the perceived insensitivity of the book's conclusion, where Thompson argues that the focus on the "conversion to goodness" of Wanda's tormentors, Maddie and Peggy, sidelines Wanda's own experience. The article questions why the National Education Association includes a book with what it deems racist undertones on its list of top children's books and calls for a reevaluation of its place in educational settings.


  1. ^ a b "The Hundred Dresses" [1944]. LC Online Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  2. ^ "The Hundred Dresses" (starred review). Kirkus Reviews. Contemporary; undated online, with later ISBN. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
      "This is off the track for the creator of The Moffats [also illus. by Slobodkin], but it is a story that might well be told to all generations."
  3. ^ The Hundred Dresses Summary.
  4. ^ Kathleen T. Horning, Association for Library Service to Children, The Newbery & Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books, Chicago: American Library Association, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8389-9717-8, p. 68.
  5. ^ American Library Association (30 November 1999). "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". Retrieved January 12, 2015.
  6. ^ Fisher, Douglas; et al. (2004). "Interactive Read-Alouds: Is There a Common Set of Implementation Practices?" (PDF). The Reading Teacher. 58 (1): 8–17. doi:10.1598/RT.58.1.1. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 7, 2013. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  7. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  8. ^ Thompson, Ewa. "Lives That Don't Matter". New Oxford Review. Retrieved 21 December 2023.

External links[edit]

The Hundred Dresses at