By Ben, 30 June 2020
Wanda lived way up on Boggins Heights, and Boggins Heights was no place to live.
I read The Hundred Dresses some years ago, when Anna was still in lower school. Back then, she was grappling with playground politics for the first time – best friends who made unreasonable requests and cliques that excluded her because she didn’t have the latest trendy toy – and fumbling miserably. I listened to her woes, soothed and counselled but decided ultimately, to allow her to find her own solutions and to make her own way. “Little girls can be so mean,” was a common refrain from other parents, and I urged Anna to try as best she could but in every circumstance to be kind, regardless of how others were treating her. She didn’t always succeed, but then again, neither did I when I was her age, nor did Maddie and Peggy, the two main characters in Eleanor Estes’ classic story about a little girl who is ostracised and bullied by her unkind classmates.
M: So Ben, who read this story to you?
B: A teacher. And while we were reading it, she gave us each a sheet and then we had to list the character traits and personality of each of the main characters in the story.
M: I see. So, can you remember what you wrote? Let’s start with the girl who gets bullied, shall we?
B: Yes ma’am. Her name was Wanda Petronski, she was poor and didn’t have many friends.
M: Why not?
B: Well, other girls were talking about their dresses and Wanda said that she had one hundred of them, but no one believed her, so they made fun of her whenever they saw her. They also made fun of her last name.
M: That’s kinda mean. Who were the other main characters?
B: There was a girl called Peggy who was the main person who teased Wanda, and she had a friend called Maddie, who was a bystander. So she wasn’t teasing Wanda, but she wasn’t helping Wanda either.
M: Do you know there is a word for that sort of behaviour?
M: It’s called being complicit. It means you encourage some bad behaviour by not taking any action to stop it from happening.
B: Oooooh, interesting! [Ben pretending to be interested]
M: So Wanda is teased by these girls…then what happens? And no spoilers please.
B: Suddenly, she stops coming to school and the other kids don’t notice except for Maddie, the bystander girl. She’s nice but she is too scared to stand up for Wanda because she doesn’t want to be targeted by the other kids. You see, Maddie is also a bit poor but not as poor as Wanda.
M: Ah. OK, what happens next?
B: The class has a drawing contest where the girls design dresses and the boys design motorboats. It’s kind of sexist, but anyway. Wanda submits a hundred pictures of dresses to the contest and she wins …
M: That’s a bit of a spoiler.
B: Oh ok. But Wanda still doesn’t come to school and then the teacher gets a note from Wanda’s dad explaining why she is not coming to school anymore, and it’s because the children have been unkind to her.
M: Oh dear. Do Maddie and Peggy do anything to fix things?
B: They try to but they’re too late …
M: So what lesson did you learn from this story?
B: When someone is being a bully, always stand up for the person being bullied and don’t be a bystander, otherwise you’ll end up feeling guilty and sad.
M: Were you sad? Did you cry?
B: I was sad, but I didn’t cry. I’m not a wet blanket, Mama.
M: I know that. OK, thank you, you can go and have dinner now.
For ages 8 and up.