My favorite book as a child was: Caps For Sale, which was written and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was, at the time, already an “old” children’s book but one that captured my attention in a big way. Curious George was a very popular character in children’s books at the time, but Caps for Sale, although it was older, had more than one monkey and in fact, a whole tree full of mischevious monkeys. The plot of the book is about a cap peddler who walks around with his caps stacked on his head trying to sell his caps. This spoke to me because my father was a salesman. I could picture dad walking around all day trying to sell his wares, although he drove around while smoking a cigarette. One time I went along with him for “take your child to work” day. When we got home, my mother asked how I liked going to work with daddy. I said I’d let her know if he ever did that because all we did was drive around all day. He never went to any work as far as I could tell.
The rest of the plot involves the frustration the peddler has when he awakes from a nap to find all of his caps missing, having been stolen by monkeys while he slept. He gets frustrated and deals with it with frustration then accidentally stumbles upon a solution. It isn’t a great plot but a small child thinks it’s hilarious. Moreover the reading is simplistic enough that even young children can read and remember parts of it. The best part of the book, I always thought, was that the same person who wrote it also illustrated it. The pictures clearly show a labor of love. They are simple and clean but also show a certain European flair that seemed unusual to a Midwest farmer/salesman’s daughter.
This book has had over two million sales throughout the years, which is just amazing. It clearly spoke to children everywhere. I know it’s sacrilege to say it, but I never read Dr. Seuss as a child. I didn’t get to read it until I was a teen. I wasn’t allowed. My mother didn’t like that Dr. Seuss books contained words that were “made up” and not real English words. She wanted her children to be readers and to learn to love books that were above them and not below them. She wanted them to push us past the world we lived in, which was an existence in poverty, to a higher plane where education and learning were more important than anything else. As such, making sure that the stories were interesting and had moral and ethical considerations was vital. This book showed a real man trying to make a real living and not doing very well at it. He did his job in an unusual way and encountered unusual circumstances. There were a lot of lessons in this little book, but mainly the basics of how to read real words in English. That’s the best lesson of all for a child.