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Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#17)

#17: Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (1947)
68 points (15 votes, #5, #6, #7, #6, #8, #2, #8, #8, #9, #10, #6, #2, #9, #7, #4)

Another one I love to read with kids. What kid doesn’t make a great monkey? – rockinlibrarian

Appears to be truly timeless.  Should have dated itself by now, but hasn’t. – Laurel Snyder

By rights I should probably call this book by its proper title.  Not merely a simple "Caps for Sale" the name of this book is actually Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business.  *deep gasp of air*  It’s a mouthful.  A mouthful and one of the best readaloud picture books of all time.  Of course, I’ve always been a little torn on how to pronounce the "tsz tsz tsz" that the monkeys are always saying.  Any librarians out there have any Caps for Sale readaloud tips or tricks they’d like to share?  Cause that part always kind of throws me for a loop.  But if you stand in front of a group of kids and announce that you are going to read this book, inevitably hands will shoot into the air and the kids will start telling you how they love that book / have that book / have read that book / etc.  It’s very rewarding.

The B&N encapsulation of the plot reads, "A cap peddler wakes from a nap to find all his caps are gone – a bunch of naughty monkeys have taken them up a tree. Angrily shaking his finger at the monkeys, the peddler demands his caps back, but the monkeys only shake their fingers and say ‘Tsz, tsz, tsz.’ No matter what the peddler does, the monkeys only imitate him. Finally, the peddler is so enraged he throws his cap on the ground-and all the monkeys follow suit!"

According to 100 Best Picture Books for Children, Slobodkina was a Russian immigrant to America who was part of the American Abstract Artists (some reports say she started it) and showed her work alongside Arshile Gorky, Stuart Davis, and Piet Mondrian.  Picture books supplemented her income and when she decided to illustrate her own tale, this was one of the ones she settled on.  Says 100 Best Picture Books, "The artwork for the first edition used only three primary colors.  But in 1947 Slobodkina revised the book, adding in ocher, red, and robin’s-egg blue.  Both the colors and the style of the art had been inspired by the work of the primitive painter Henri Rousseau."

As Ms. Snyder up above has pointed out, this 1947 construct should undoubtedly have dated itself by this point.  So why hasn’t it?  Maybe it has something to do with the construct.  As Literature and the Child by Cullinan and Galda (5th edition) puts it, "the popular old favorite, Caps for Sale, has a cumulative sequence.  Rhyme and rhythm help children predict through sound – the rhyming of words in a regular beat, or rhythm."  Doesn’t hurt matters any that the books a hoot to boot.

Caps for Sale?  Unequivocal success.  The sequel Circus Caps for Sale?  Well, at least one reader recently sent me a note in which they described Circus Caps for Sale ("formerly known as Pezzo the Peddler and the Circus Elephant") as an unnecessary sequel.  It may have its defenders, but I’ll tell you right now that nobody but nobody put it on their Top 10 Picture Books lists that they sent me.

If you are interested in seeing other books by this author/illustrator, high thee henceward to the Slobodkina Foundation where there is a lovely list of titles, thumbnails of all the covers included.  There are also more than a few Caps for Sale activity pages available for downloading.  Go hog wild with ’em.

Want the original art?  The site goes on to say that, "At age 90, she designed a mini-museum in Glen Head, Long Island as a place where guests can view more than 500 works of art, handmade dolls and jewelry, and the complete collection of Slobodkina’s children’s books, including some original illustrations. Functioning both as a museum and a reading room for children, the charitable Slobodkina Foundation actively preserves the legacy of Esphyr Slobodkina’s prolific, multifaceted career."  Long Island!  Who knew?

Finally, this marks the second appearance of spats on this list.  The spatwatch currently stands as:

Babar: 1
Caps for Sale: 1

The New York Times said of it, "From an old folk tale [the author] has fashioned this bright picture book, infusing it with a humor which seems to have sprung from her own hearty enjoyment of the troubles of a peddler with a band of monkeys."

Previous Top 100 Picture Book Posts include:



















About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Kara Dean says:

    Was rereading this with my daughter just the other day and had the horrible realization that I’d left it out of my top ten list! I am 100 times a doofus.

  2. Jennifer Schultz says:

    I usually do a “zee zee zee.” I don’t know either. Luckily, it doesn’t really matter, I guess.

  3. rockinlibrarian says:

    I go… um… how do you possibly express a sound in writing when it’s already been written one way and that’s what the question is? Um… well, I guess I pronounce it kind of like a spitty hiss? It sounds rather like a lot of zoo background noise in the end.

  4. I’ve always interpreted “tsz” as that hissing against-the-teeth noise some adults make when scolding children. I’ve also seen it written out as “tsk” or “tsch.” Seems appropriate for a bunch of wily monkeys mocking their victim! (The kids love making that sound, too.)
    Can I also mention that this is one of the best books to read for bilingual storytimes? Many English-language picture books become clunky when translated into Spanish, but Se Venden Goros keeps bright and appealing, even maintaining some of the rhythm and rhyme (“Monos! Dame mis goros!”).

  5. And finally, my votes start appearing! YAY!