Caps for Sale


Written and Illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina

HarperCollins, 1940

Once there was a peddler who sold caps.  But he was not like an ordinary peddler, carrying his wares on his back.  He carried them on top of his head.

The plot in a nutshell:  A peddler deals with thieving monkeys

The peddler wears his own cap, followed by gray caps, brown caps, blue caps and red caps. He walks through the town, selling his caps for fifty cents apiece. But one morning, no one buys any, so he had no money for lunch. He walks out of town and sits down to rest under a large tree. When he wakes up later, his own cap is the only one on his head. He looks all around for his caps and finds them on the heads of monkeys up in the tree. He shakes his finger at them and they shake their fingers back. He shakes both hands and stamps his feet and the monkeys do the same. Then he takes off his cap and throws it on the ground, which makes the monkeys throw their caps on the ground. He collects them all and goes back to town, calling that he has caps for sale.

Monkeys in the tree

“Monkeys, those hats don’t match your outfits!”

Author/illustrator Esphyr Slobodkina’s classic book turned 75 last year and is one of those books that just about everyone I knew had when we were all kids. Ms. Slobodkina came to the United States from Siberia in 1928 and was discovered and befriended by Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon), who encouraged her to write her own stories. I loved this book when I was little (mostly because I absolutely adored the way that the monkeys are drawn) and I loved reading it to my kids when they were young.  The small words and repetition in the text make it a great choice for beginner readers.

In its initial printing, the illustrations were done in only three colors and the full color version that we are more familiar with today was released in 1947, after Ms. Slobodkina revised the illustrations with ochre, red and robin’s egg blue. (I just can’t, in any way, picture this book without that robin’s egg sky!) The author passed away in 2002, but she had spent some time with a younger author who published a long-awaited sequel, More Caps for Sale, in time for the book’s 75th anniversary last year. This is one of those books that every child should know.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that paying close attention to your opponent is the best way to figure out how to get the best of him.


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