The Hundred Dresses

Mother/Daughter Book Groups. Hmmm…for second-graders. Hmmm…which book to choose? I have the perfect one for you: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

There are lots of readable books out there, but when choosing a book for a Mother/Daughter Book Group, I keep three things in mind:

  1. The Story: No matter what, at the end of the day, what a reader of any age wants from a book is a great story. We want to enter the book, fall into the story, run around with the characters, even become one of them. We want to escape this world for another. Or…if the story is a scary one, we huddle close to each other while reading it, grabbing our stuffies, sooooooo glad that we are not in that world, but rather safely in our own!
  2. Questions: I love novels that get me wondering, get me thinking, get me asking questions. Some of these questions are the unanswerable kinds—you know—the mysteries of life kind. I don’t think having all the answers is as important as searching for them. Reading, to me, is a continual journey of searching…it’s kind of like life in that way.
  3. Life Lessons: If I can learn something valuable from a story, well then, all the better. It’s not a requirement; it’s more like a nice-to-have. Then again, what great literature is out there that we don’t learn something valuable from? The wise reader learns from the experiences of the characters in books, and avoids a lot of life’s pitfalls that way. There is so much truth in fiction, more than in non-fiction, but that’s a subject for another blog post, another day.

The Hundred Dresses meets all three of the above criteria. The story is wonderful, and my adorable seven-year-old group took to it with gusto. The story is packed with different layers, and the girls were tuned into most of them. It’s a story of friendship, of prejudice, of cowardice, and of hope, to mention a few themes that came up in our conversation.

We asked each other lots of questions, too. Was Peggy, the rich girl who had “fun” with poor Wanda each day, really a mean girl? Was she a true friend to Maddie, her “best friend”? Did Peggy really think she had helped Wanda with her “game,” or was she just telling herself a story so she wouldn’t feel guilty? Did Wanda know she was being made fun of? These are just a few of the topics we bounced around, and we didn’t definitively answer all of them. I love it that way; perhaps the girls will re-read this book at a later date and see the questions, and some of the answers, in a different light.

There’s a huge life lesson in the book, too. What would you do if you saw someone—your best friend!—making fun of someone else? Would you stand by in silence, relieved that someone other than you is the target? Or would you say something in defense of the victim? All the girls agreed that they would stand up and say something to stop the teasing, even if they were risking their friendship with their best friend. And all the moms agreed that this would not be an easy thing to do!

I highly recommend The Hundred Dresses for your Mother/Daughter Book Group, for grades first through fourth.

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