Wanda Petronski has a weird name and wears the same old faded blue dress to school every day—and her Connecticut classmates don’t let the little Polish girl forget it for a second. She tells her classmates she has a hundred beautiful dresses at home, but they don’t believe her. Eventually, her classmates realize the error of their bullying ways, but Wanda has already left school.
The message in The Hundred Dresses, a Newbery Honor book in 1945, is still so powerful, the book was named the best of 25 books that connect children to social and emotional learning by the Open Circle Program at Wellesley Centers for Women.
The center, which helps teachers work with elementary-age children to acquire skills to build and maintain positive relationships, came up with the top 25 list (PDF) as part of the celebration of its 25th anniversary.
The Open Circle educators listed books that stand out as being especially authentic and memorable and are geared toward children in kindergarten through 5th grades. They deal with self-awareness, self-management, empathy, dealing with conflict, and problem-solving.
“Books can illustrate what an actual emotion looks like and then links that emotion to a word like ‘sad’, ‘bad’, or ‘happy’ with illustrations or actual photographs,” said Peg Sawyer, an Open Circle trainer and coach. “A book related to responsible decisionmaking gives children the opportunity to talk about what the behaviors are that help them develop relationships, and conversely, what are the behaviors that get in the way of the relationship.”
Also on the organization’s list: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, about a boy who takes Ritalin and doesn’t always make the best choices. And in Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, two children in Maine strike up an unlikely friendship and fight to save one of their communities.
As for Wanda Petronski, (SPOILER ALERT!) one of her shy classmates soon realizes the effects of the teasing, though she doesn’t have the guts to intervene. By the time the winner of a drawing contest the class had entered turns out to be Wanda, for her vivid drawings of the 100 dresses, Wanda has moved away and can’t accept her award.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.