Monday, August 24, 2009

Teaching Tolerance: The Hundred Dresses


Once in a while, in the process of reading all the Newbery Medal books, I come across a book that is not only high quality children's literature, but meshes with my philosophy as a teacher. As a teacher, I want to teach my students to appreciate diversity and value people for themselves. The Hundred Dresses* by Eleanor Estes, a Newbery honor book for 1945, is a perfect book for encouraging children how to treat others who are different than them. In the story, Wanda Petronski is a poor, friendless girl who is teased unremittingly by the popular girls when she tells them that she has 100 dresses at home. Without giving too much away, the children learn a unforgettable lesson about the impact of their actions. More than that, Maddie, the resident mean girl's best friend, finally comes to terms with her role as a bystander, and gains the courage to stand up for what's right. This simple story is full of real-life applications for our children. Children are not born bigoted or intolerant and it is up to us as educators to provide models of compassion and tolerance.

*Try compare and contrasting this book with Molly's Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen, a book about a Russian Jewish immigrant who is mocked by her classmates for her nontraditional pilgrim doll, until her classmates learn a lesson in what it means to be a real pilgrim.

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