Caps for Sale is one of the classic children's books. It was written in 1938 by writer/illustrator Esphyr Slobodkina ("ess FEER sloh BOD keen ah," according to the Educational Paperback Association). Slobodkina grew up in a small Siberian town amongst peddlers, farmers, and other small town folk. When the "Russian Civil War" began, she saw wealthier people, intellectuals, refugees.
Always interested in the arts, she took her memories of childhood: the people she saw and knew, the places she'd lived (when they left their town, they traveled through eastern Russia and Manchuria before coming to the United States) and used them as inspiration for her work, first in illustration and then in her own stories. Caps for Sale is a prime example.
Subtitled "A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys & Their Monkey business," the book reads more like an old folk tale than a "story." It has both the charm and timelessness of something passed down from a mother or father or grandparent to the children sitting expectantly at their feet. At once far away and long ago, yet familiarone knows places like this must still exist if only one looks for them. The artwork reinforces both that sense and the leisureliness of the pace. The same pace that the peddler has as he walks throughout the countryside and towns calling "Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!"
Drawn much like folk art, Slobodkina uses strong, clean lines and flat (though often bright) color to fill the spaces she makes on the page. Simple houses and churches and cobblestones and fields. Not drawn with any strict perspective, but rather as one's impression would be of the sights. The way a child would see it. Simple, yet evocative. And though the dress of the peddler may be dated, he is an "anyman" from "anytime," kindly and pleasant-looking. A trustworthy peddler who makes his living selling the caps that he has stacked one atop another on his head:
First he had on his own checkered cap, then a bunch of gray caps, then a bunch of brown caps, then a bunch a blue caps, and on the very top a bunch of red caps.
Having no money for lunch, he goes to nap beneath a tree. When he awakes, the caps (save his own) are gone and he is surprised to find a tree full of (happy, smiling) monkeys wearing his hats and scolding him, imitating his angry gestures, when he tries to get them to return his wares. "Tsz, tsz, tsz" is all he gets for his efforts.
That imitation is the key to the solution, though he arrives at it by accident. Once he has retrieved the hats and placed them on his head, he returns to his life of walking from town to town calling "Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!"
A wonderful story for reading aloud to children (once you figure how to properly pronounce "tsz"), who will enjoy the gentle humor and the bright colors, both gifts from Esphyr Slobodkina.
Used my old hardcover that I got from my grandmother. It's probably from the 1950s andaccording to the back cover:
Information on the author: www.edupaperback.org/pastbios/Slobodk.html
As a kid I remember watching Captain Kangaroo reading this aloud on his television show. He got the "tsz" just right.