As a family we read books aloud together before bed. It is a family ritual that we rarely miss. We have read all kinds of books across many genres, but really it comes down to whatever strikes the kids’ fancy at the moment. Some recent favorites have included The Wizard of Oz, Miss Hickory, and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole series. I’ll admit I aim at getting them hooked on some of the classics in order to broaden their reading from the latest fairy book or dinosaur story but generally the stories are so good they never regret it! While reading aloud helps them with fluency and vocabulary what I find most thrilling is not the storylines of the books (although I do enjoy them), it’s the conversation that we have around the content of the books.
In that vein we recently finished reading The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. The book itself was a fairly easy read together but the character of Wanda Petronski captivated my children. Wanda is a Polish girl living in Connecticut attending school at a time of great ethnic discrimination against Polish people. She is mocked at school for having a funny name and wearing the same tired blue dress day after day. As you read the book you see Wanda slowly worn down by the name calling and teasing from the other students in her class. What resonated strongly with my kids though was Wanda’s exclusion because she was Polish. My girls, who have some personal experience with discrimination, talked at length together about the motivation of someone to put down another person because of their nationality or race. The family as a whole had productive conversations about how to cope with those who make comments about us as a Blended family, or about my oldest daughter because of her dark skin. These were not the first, nor will they be the last, of our conversations together but because the book brought the subject up in a non white versus black way the discussion seemed more free and universal instead of just from our own personal experiences.
Overall this book surprised me with the amount of discussion around the dinner table about ethnicity, socioeconomic class, bullying, the power of words, and the place of regret and forgiveness. I would recommend reading this book with your child and talking about these issues as they arise. I hope you are as delightfully surprised as we were.
If you would like to add The Hundred Dresses to your personal library, click here.