Book Bowl

I volunteered to help out at our elementary school's Book Bowl. It's a program to encourage third graders to read. They're divided into teams, and they're supposed to read as many books as they can from the list compiled by the school librarian. At the end of six weeks they have a sort of game show where the teams have to answer questions about the books they read. The coaches are supposed to read the books, too.

So, I took a break from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to read, reread actually, The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes. Do you remember that one? My vague recollection of it was: boring, stupid, and hideous illustrations. Coming back to it as an adult, though . . . wow! In case you've forgotten, there's this poor little Polish immigrant girl, Wanda, who is teased mercilessly by her classmates after she tells them she owns a hundred dresses. It turns out the hundred dresses are beautiful, contest-winning drawings she made. The mean girls only learn this after Wanda has moved away to a big city where there's less discrimination. The book focuses mostly on Maddie, who's the best friend of Peggy, the meanest girl. Maddie comes to realize that although she didn't tease Wanda herself, she is just as culpable as if she had, because she didn't try to stop Peggy from being mean. And you feel Maddie's pain. It's beautifully written. I was a little disappointed that it had a happy ending (the girls apologize by mail), because I felt it detracted a little from the message, but it's a kids' book, after all. I can't wait to talk about this with my son's team.

The illustrations, though. Yuck.