Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Winter Reading 2023 Nancy Bess Had a Dress


This story features the ingenuity and creativity of girls and women in the early 20th century who lived according to the maxim, "Waste not, want not." Nancy and her mother go to town and, although the store clerk rolls his eyes, Nancy picks the flour sack on the very bottom of the pile that has blue fabric decorated with a daisy pattern. After batches of  biscuits, pancakes, and homemade bread, the sack is empty and Nancy Bess can make it into a new dress or herself. When she outgrows it, she can cut it down to make an apron. When the apron is ripped, then she can make a satchel. As something befalls each new creation, there is always another way it can be put to use. 

The illustrations of pencil, watercolor, and digital ink capture the passage of time as well as the closeness of the family and community. Readers will see Nancy Bess grow taller, her mother's pregnancy becoming more evident, and the loving care put into each stitch of the baby quilt Nancy Bess makes for her new sibling. Other details that might catch the eye are the antics of her puppy - riding in her school satchel, accompanying her to the potluck, or covering its eyes with a paw as Nancy Bess gets her hair bobbed. There are also some mice who can be found watching from the mantel, the windowsill, and other vantage points around the house. The mice also do some sewing of their own like those furry seamstresses in Disney's "Cinderella." 

Back matter includes an explanation of flour sack dresses and their growing popularity through the 1930s and even after World War II. Fashion styles and daily activities reflect the time period shown. Nancy Bess and her family read as white and so do most of the characters shown in the illustrations. One of her friends does have thick curly hair and browner skin than the others. 

This is a sweetly homespun tale reminiscent of Simms Taback's Joseph Had a Little Overcoat and full of fun like Sunday socials and gathering treasures by the creek. A good read aloud to accompany lessons on reusing materials, open-ended thinking, or early twentieth century life.

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