Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business

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Read Aloud Dad is alone.

My four-year old twins (we celebrated their birthday last week!) are 300 miles away, on a mini-holiday in the highlands with their mom.

Even though the house is empty, a parent without his children is never alone.

There are always memories of smiles, laughter and ... of reading aloud.

Yes, I miss them.

The house is so silent now.

It has been some time since I have written a review and I have been doubting myself for past several days.

Do I really know what I am doing?

Frankly, the great response and positive feedback from readers and parents over the past months was so surprising.

Today, for example, I received two heart-warming messages on my Facebook page.

Read Aloud Dad is a project of love, yet I am receiving so much more love back!

Children's Books to Love was so kind to tell me that her young daughter finished her first chapter book! Massive!

And I was indirectly part of that.

Hundreds or thousands of miles away she and her daughter just finished reading a book that my own little twins read with me when they were 3-year olds.

"Just read Noddy Goes to Toyland from cover to cover with my almost-3-year-old. First chapter book, she absolutely loved it. Thank you for the fabulous review/suggestion!"

Thanks for this message Children's Books to Love !

And - also today - Jean-Marie Maier left a most most incredible message.

Jean-Marie, you should have warned me to sit down before reading your message.

Because of YOUR review I borrowed "The Faraway Tree Stories" from the library for a read aloud for my 7 year old. We didn't have any of the books in the series in our library system in Florida so I had them get the 3-in-1 collection through Interlibrary Loan from Texas. So glad I did! 
I'm about half-way through the final book "The Folk of the Faraway Tree" and my daughters has LOVED it so far. The stories are so accessible for the wee folk. 
It's fun for them to learn about the different lands and dream up other possible lands. And the characters are fabulous. 
Saucepan Man cracks us up with his poor hearing. I'm so glad I went through the trouble of hunting down this collection. Thank you for all of your wonderful reviews. They have introduced us to books we probably never would've found on our own (also enjoyed "The Bear That Wasn't").

Jean-Marie, yes you should have warned me to sit down.

An inter-library loan across the state border!


I am exctatic that you were able to read aloud these books with your daughter!

You had to go to such lengths to get hold of the books, but I know that you are glad that you managed to get them.

I knew your daughter and you would love them. They are that good.

Reading aloud the Faraway Tree stories is indeed pure magic.

Although I am alone at home, Read Aloud Dad is not alone.

Thank you Jean-Marie. You just reminded me what was the most important thing that I was doing.

Read Aloud Dad is not in the business of merely reviewing books.

No. I'm here to open my heart.  

As parents we all need to open up our hearts to the best children's books.
And yes, today I open my heart again to you my friends.

It's all about exceptional children's books and giving them the credit that they deserve.

And how can someone keep this one from you?

I simply cannot.

I can no longer hide the classic picture book Caps For Sale.

If you have not read it recently (or ever), it is time to remind yourself of this gem.

Caps for Sale is no less than a read aloud masterpiece!

And On Every Branch Sat A Monkey

There's nothing you could say that would shock me.Laura Prepon

Come on.

Stop pulling our leg, Read Aloud Dad.

A 64-year old story named Caps For Sale?

Indeed, I admit, although it is known as a classic - the title sounds so ... outdated, and even the resume of the story is, frankly, boooooring.

Let me give it to you briefly:

A peddler who sells caps, one day can't sell a single cap.
He walks out of town.
Takes a nap.
Wakes up and finds his caps are missing.
He finds them.
Goes back to town.

That's it?

It's no adrenaline-filled Shark vs. Train!

Ahhhh... but wait.

That's exactly where you would be wrong.

The magic is in the details.

Funnily enough, the first time I read aloud Caps For Sale - I was shocked by the reaction of my kids.

It was a long time ago. Probably a year or more ago.

Admittedly, I wasn't expecting much when I read it for the first time.

In fact, we read this picture book as part of the HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics.

Six months had passed since the book arrived at our house in January 2010 and we had practically read all twelve stories, except two. Caps For Sale was one of them.

The prospect of reading it did not excite me, so I kept skipping over it.

One day, bored with the remaining ten stories, I opened Esphyr Slobodkina's tale for the first time.

"Tonight, we are reading Caps for Sale," I informed my little pumpkins.

No protestations.

The story began simply enough - a tale about a peddler trying to sell his wares:

"As he went along he called,
"Caps! Caps for sale!
Fifty cents a cap!"

As nobody wanted the caps that morning, the peddler walked out of town "slowly, slowly, so not to upset his caps".

The peddler sat down under a great big tree with 17 caps stacked up on his head and slowly fell asleep.

When he woke up, he couldn't find his caps anywhere. The peddler looked everywhere around.

"Then he looked up into the tree. And what do you think he saw?", I read.

And I stopped reading and looked straight at my twins in their pajamas, sitting with their legs crossed, each one on his or her bed.

"Don't forget to engage them at story time. Here is a great opportunity. Let's see what they will invent," I said to myself.

They were staring at me. They weren't thinking about the answer, their mouths were opening.

"MONKEYS!!!!", they shouted back in synchronization with big smiles.

I was flabbergasted.

They could not be right.

I quickly turned the page and indeed.

There was a double page spread with 16 monkeys wearing 16 caps on the top of the tree.

They were barely three years old, how did they guess that?

My kids were smiling and looking at me triumphantly.

Hey, wait a moment. They never heard this story before.

I was stunned. I wasn't expecting this.

My twins were laughing together at the confused expression on my face and savoring the moment.

"How did you know?" I insisted.

"Daaaaad, we've seen the pictures before," my daughter responded laconically.

Wow, I couldn't believe that these small pumpkins were secretly pulling out of the bookshelf this 448-page 5-pound treasury, when I wasn't looking.

Especially, as I told them never to pull it off by themselves as it was too heavy and could crash down on their feet.

Cheeky monkeys.

Three Colors Never Went So Well Together

A masterpiece of fiction is an original world and as such is not likely to fit the world of the reader.
Vladimir Nabokov

Siberian-born author Esphyr Slobodkina from Chelyabinsk created a true American classic.

Rhythm, repetition and surprise.

Her recipe for success.

Her illustrations for Caps For Sale are as original as the story itself. She chose to work in three colors.

Red, blue and yellow?

Orange, purple and green?

Well, I won't torture you.

Her original choice was turquoise blue, red and ochre.

And they work so well together!

No they are not flashy.

In fact, the choice is original that every time I read the story, I feel that something is "wrong" with the colors.

It seems as if someone at the print shop modified the colors.

Even my kids keep looking carefully at the pages and then they inform me that the brown hats are "not brown" and the blue hats are "not blue".

And that's the magic of it.

Yes, Esphyr Slobodkina gave this picture book a unique visual.

Reading up on her biography, it is fascinating to find out that Slobodkina's hometown and home province was closed to all foreigners for 45 years.

Only in January of 1992 did President Boris Yeltsin sign a decree changing that.

The region was later declared to be the most polluted spot on earth. Ooops.

The city sprang up during the Second World War, when Stalin moved weapons production to the isolated region.It would go on to produce 50% of the Soviet Union's tanks.This gave the city its nickname, "Tank City."

Esphyr Slobodkina from Tank City.

I can't even merge these two concepts in my head. Sounds like a character from a L. Frank Baum book.

Anyway, back to the story, when Slobodkina was researching the origin of this story/folktale, she concluded that it could have only originated from Paramaribo, Suriname in South America.

Upon visiting the place, she was impressed with the striking combination of Dutch colonial architecture and a vibrant monkey population.


Ahhh yes!

That brings me back to those two little cheeky monkeys of mine!

They were apparently so fascinated with the story that they leafed through the entire treasury before we ever read the story and they knew the images of Caps For Sale by heart.

I never saw them glancing at the story, but they probably had a blast imagining what was going on.

But where is the special read-aloud magic of this book, you ask?

I will not tell you.

All I can disclose is that a most delightful taunting episode between the monkeys and the peddler ensues.

It is repetitive, involves fist shaking, fist stomping, cap throwing ...

No, I cannot say any more.

Esphyr Slobodkina's genius was so great that she created a timeless read-aloud classic with just three words:

"Tsz, tsz, tsz!"

No, no, I cannot say any more.

You have to read it to believe it.

Caps For Sale is available from bookstores in the US:


The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

and from other countries:

Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon DE


  1. I really appreciate your kind comment Kerry :-)

    You said it best ... sometimes we have no urge to pick up a book. It's that simple. 

    I hope you will enjoy this great book that is superb for a one-on-one or even group read-alouds, so grab a kid and have a blast!

    Thanks for your message!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Kerry Aradhya 

  2. Thanks!

    You made my day .. wait .. what's the word ... ahh yes - fabulicious!


    Rocking Aloud Dad

    Re: B. Streetman 

  3. What a nice review of this book, and a nice story about your experience with it. I guess I am like you in some ways, because I have seen the cover of this book so many times in the last few years but have never felt an urge to pick it up...and so haven't. have me intrigued! I will have to pick it up next time I see it :) 

  4. Thanks Denise,

    Indeed, that picture book works wonders. It's funny how we all grow up and sometimes we cannot even predict a child's reaction to a book. 

    As regards the insecurity I mentioned, you are completely correct. You have finger on it, I do miss them so and the house is so empty. 

    Good news - they are back in a couple of days! 

    Thank you so much for your kind and reassuring words. It means so much to me!

    Denise, thanks for putting a very big smile on my face!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Denise Massie 

  5. I'm glad to hear so many strong reactions to this strange story. I have that same story collection and had no idea what to expect when I first read Caps for Sale it with my 4yo son. Of course, he loved it. It was in that Treasury for a very good reason.

    Read Aloud Dad, you're only feeling insecure because you're missing your inspiration. You are obviously very loved by parents and readers worldwide. I appreciate your research, your unique reviews and your refreshing perspective. I consider you a trusted resource. Please keep up the wonderful work!

  6. Thanks for giving us feedback on Circus Caps for Sale PragmaticMom!

    I knew about the book, but didn't know was it as good as the first one.

    Super that it is great as well, now I have to find it to surprise my twins! Can't wait!

    By the way, if anyone is interested in this sequel (a big thanks to PragmaticMom for the great tip!) - you can find it on Amazon here:

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @2f04fd44b02f5004c4fadc411b33b1aa 

  7. The sequel Circus Caps for Sale is also really great too! My kids all loved this book but I have to say I worry at the end that he will sell caps so that he can eat. But such a lovely story!!

  8. Hi Alicia,

    That is so special! 

    You must have such fond memories of this book - from your own childhood and beautiful memories of reading it aloud to your son! 

    That is exactly what great children's books are all about! About that warm feeling deep inside one's heart! 

    These books are integral parts of our personalities.  

    Thank you so much for sharing these special memories!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Alicia Crenshaw 

  9. Hi Carol,

    Indeed, this book has a mystic quality to it. It seems so simple, but as soon as you read it aloud: Boom, Boom!

    It hits right where it is supposed to hit. The effect on the kids is tremendous! 

    As you said, the patterns in the story are so attractive to the kids ... and when you arrive at the finger-shaking and foot stomping... everyone goes crazy!

    So happy that you shared your experience here - it is so great to hear that your preschoolers adore it!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: Carol Satta 

  10. Hello Jean-Marie,

    Wow, this is getting really exciting! I never expected that I would have comments from readers who met Esphyr (and her sister) in person! 

    You must be so happy to own that valuable copy of the musical play for children! That is such a treasure - especially with the autographs!

    Thank you so much for sharing this moment from Hallandale!


    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @4a1334f8d25cf86dcb2ff86e5e6ef2c7 

  11. Hi Justbon,

    First comment - and right in the bullseye!

    That is such a great story! Indeed, she must have been a special woman to write such a distinctive masterpiece! 

    I am so happy you shared the Broward County Library festival anecdote with us, it gives me a unique glimpse into the world of this unique lady!

    Thank you for setting aside the time to leave a comment!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @d2c965c9472e5e8a8df335bff89559e2 

  12. This was the first book I ever read all by myself, with no help from anyone. It's one memory that will stay with me forever. When I became pregnant with my oldest son, it was the very first "baby" thing I bought - not booties, not blankets, a copy of Caps for Sale!

  13. As a school librarian, I also overlooked this gem for awhile, too. However, when I chose to use it as a read-aloud one day for our preschooler . . . WOW! I realized that it's brilliant! The students love seeing the patterns in the simple story, predicting what comes next, and joining in on the finger-shaking and tongue-clicking--TSZ, TSZ, TSZ! Now I look forward to reading this each year to the preschoolers because it never fails to engage them.

  14. I too met Esphyr and her sister Tamara in the mid 80s in Hallandale, FL (my hometown)!  I still have the copy of "Caps For Sale! a musical play for children" that she and her sister inscribed and autographed for me (I was only about 10 years old at the time).  Her sister Tamara Schildkraut wrote the music and lyrics for the play's ten songs.

    Read Aloud Dad, you deserve every bit of the praise you receive.  Thank you for sharing your insight, experiences and enthusiasm with us!  

  15. I met Esphyr Slobodkina in the mid-1980s, when she was a very old woman living in Hallandale, Florida, and the Broward County Library used "Caps for Sale" as the theme of its first Children's Reading Festival in Fort Lauderdale. Esphyr was the guest of honor. The local children's theater produced a short play based on the story, which Esphyr thought was less than wonderful. She was a feisty, opinionated woman -- not a easy-going sweetheart. Which was exactly what you'd expect from the kind of genius who created this book.

  16. I remember this book from when I was a kid it is still beautiful
    to look at

  17. It is beautiful, isn't it! Funny how some great children's books can stay with us all our lives!

    Thanks for your comment!

    Read Aloud Dad

    Re: @google-1f653fbebde7e75f532b644910860b38:disqus