Caps For Sale – An Enduring Classic

by Donne Davis on February 14, 2009

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On a recent trip to the library I was looking through the picture books for my five-year old granddaughter, Juliet, and came upon an old favorite: Caps For Sale. I loved that book when I was a child, imagining what it would be like to try and balance 17 hats on my head like the man in the story. I read it to my children when they were new readers because the words are repetitious and easy to follow. I brought it home to read to Juliet, curious about whether it still had appeal for another generation.

Juliet loved seeing the peddler stack his 17 hats on his head and try to sell them for 50 cents a cap. But the part that cracked her up was his antics to get the caps back after he falls asleep under a tree. When he awakens, the caps are gone. He looks up in the tree and discovers 17 monkeys, each one wearing one of his caps. Kids love repeating his lament: You monkeys, you give me back my caps! I won’t tell you how it ends in case you haven’t read it.

I always assumed the author, Esphyr Slobodkina, was a man. But Slobodkina was a Siberian woman who immigrated to the United States in 1929 and enrolled in the National Academy of Design, NYC. During the late 1930s she met author Margaret Wise Brown, author of Good Night Moon, and hoped to illustrate one of her books. Slobodkina wrote and illustrated a story with collage called Mary and The Poodies and presented it to Brown. She liked it so well the two women collaborated on many books together.

Encouraged by Brown to write her own story, Slobodkina wrote Caps For Sale, which was first published in 1938. Since then it has sold more than two million copies and is considered a children’s classic. Slobodkina was a prolific artist and and a founding member of the American Abstract Artists. At age 90 she created the Slobodkina Foundation and a museum in Long Island where people could view her work that included dolls and jewelry. She was a leader in the abstract art movement until her death at age 93.

What favorite classics have you shared with your grandchildren?

{ 1 comment }

Sally Wendkos Olds February 16, 2009 at 4:23 pm

My own children, and my grandchildren, loved this story. Thanks for giving background on it. I live on Long Island and hope to get to the Slobodkina Museum one of these days. “Pat the Bunny” and “Babar” are other everlasting favorites. Right now the Nassau County Museum of Art (also on Long Island) is featuring a major exhibit about Babar, which I plan to get to it.

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