• Happy birthday Ernest J. Gaines (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman).
  • It’s the birth date of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). Read Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier.
  • Elizabeth I is crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey, London in 1559. Read Good Queen Bess by Diane Stanley.
  • James Naismith publishes the rules of basketball in 1892. Read My Basketball Book by Gail Gibbons.
  • A lethal mess! In 1919, a large molasses tank in Boston, Massachusetts, bursts and a wave rushes through the streets, killing 21 people and injuring 150 others. Read Molasses Flood by Blair Lent.

Today we celebrate National Hat Day. If you have ever met me, you know I am a hat fanatic. I began wearing them in the mid 1970s, when a bad haircut before a sales conference sent me into a tizzy. I stopped at a store on my way back to work and purchased a hat to hide my terrible hair. Before the haircut grew out, I realized that I loved wearing hats. What shoes did for Imelda Marcos—hats do for me. Given this propensity, I have always hunted for good books featuring my favorite apparel. Yet the one that still pleases me the most first appeared in 1940, Esphyr Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale.

Born in Siberia into a family of considerable artistic talent, Slobodkina fled Russia because of the Revolution, and in 1928 at the age of twenty, arrived in New York. She quickly becoming involved with a group of painters and sculptors called American Abstract Artists that included Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. Much inspired by Henri Rousseau, she began showing her work with Arshile Gorky, Stuart Davis, and Mondrian.

But she needed to supplement her income and sought out Margaret Wise Brown, who at that point worked as an editor for William R. Scott, the independent, experimental publisher who would also release the work of Gertrude Stein for children. Dressed in a swirling Bohemian black cape and beaded skullcap, Slobodkina may have impressed Brown as much by her outfits as she did with the storyboards she delivered. Certainly Slobodkina’s fine sense of style was preserved in her nattily dressed peddler featured in Caps for Sale. Brown offered her work, and eventually the two created several books together, including The Little Fireman.

Finally, when Slobodkina got to write and illustrate her own book, she turned to a story passed on to her by her nephew, Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business. A peddler, with all of his wares stacked on his head, advertises his caps for sale. When he takes a nap, some monkeys steal the hats, put them on their heads, and climb into trees. When he asks for the hats back, the monkeys reply, “Tsz, tsz, tsz.” The repetitive refrain and the well-paced text make the book absolutely perfect for group sharing. For seventy-one years children have loved acting out the part of the mischievous animals in this spirited tale of monkeys and their monkey business.

I have never been able to resist the caps in the story. It makes me want to pile up my own hats and wear several at a time. Maybe I will do so for National Hat Day.

Here’s a page from Caps for Sale:

“You monkeys, you,”
he said,
shaking a finger at them,
“you give me back my caps.”

But the monkeys
only shook their fingers
back at him and said,
“Tsz, tsz, tsz.”

Originally posted January 15, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Clothing, Hats, Monkeys
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Caps for Sale


  1. Kristin McIlhagga says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now Anita, I love all of the back story that you share about the different authors, illustrators and titles. This particular book has been a favorite of mine since childhood as well and reminded me to pull it off my shelf to use in my children’s literature course as a read aloud. I also appreciate that you are wearing a hat in the photograph on your page, it adds to your voice in the post in a lovely way.

  2. Tom Angleberger says:

    I agree about Caps for Sale! I also admire Big Hat Small Hat.

    Quite a few hats in Most of the Time Maxie, too.

    And don’t forget Mr Frumble!!

  3. Jude says:

    I love hats, too, and this is a wonderful story. I read it to both of my children many times when they were young.

  4. Star says:

    I always loved that you wear a hat everyday! I am also a hat lover, and I have always loved this book!

  5. Catherine says:

    One of the all-time classic picture books. I can remember listening to this book in kindergarten and loving it. Years later my daughter loved it as well.

    And of course let’s not forget our old friend The Cat in the Hat!

  6. Anita says:

    Thanks for all the great hat book suggestions — and for helping celebrate National Hat Day.

  7. joe says:

    What a coincidence! Someone mentioned this book to me this week!

    I love your blog. I get some many interesting suggestions for me to read and I’m 59 years and 4 months old. 8^)

  8. Anita,

    What a great choice for National Hat Day!

    I’ve got this story – as one of the books included in the 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury – and I still remember the trepidation when I read it aloud the first time.

    Would my twins love it? Or would they yawn?

    I even stopped reading at the point when the peddler looked up at the tree (after waking up without all the caps) – and I asked my little boy and girl (just turned three years old at that time). “What do you think he saw?”

    And without hesitation – they both smiled at me and said “Monkeys!”

    Turns out they both had been leafing through the book when I wasn’t looking and they already knew the story’s visuals by heart.

    They made me laugh out loud. I was so surprised.

    Cheeky little monkeys. Tsz, tsz, tsz!

    Read Aloud Dad

  9. Anita says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. Yes, children still love those cheeky little monkeys.

  10. Sarah T says:

    Caps for Sale is one of my favorite books to read aloud! The repetition of the dialogue and the buildup of the peddler’s frustration are hysterical, especially when combined with the drawings of those naughty monkeys.When I was younger, I loved having the book read to me. Now that I pick out books for story time, this has become one of my go-to staples, sure to delight both reader and audience every time. Thanks so much for highlighting it!

  11. Kate says:

    I have always loved this book! I love the hilarious and cinematic quality of her sequential illustrations, when the peddler and the monkeys act out their copy cat games. I remember my dad reading this story to me as a child, and he would perform the same actions as the monkeys and the peddlers while reading the book to me. Caps for Sale is such a great memory maker!

  12. Mary Graf says:

    Add to your list for Hat Lovers: A Hat for Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke. Hysterically funny for young preschoolers.

  13. I still have the 60-year-old, well-worn copy of Caps for Sale that my mother read to me as a child. It was my favorite.

  14. G. Perry says:

    Well, I’ve worn cowboy hats (not much) racing caps, Mayo Clinic, Cape Dory and Red Sox baseball caps, not to mention a Yorkshire Moors English Tweed walking cap, so I have enjoyed caps as myself.

    My favorite story (besides this one) about caps comes from the film “Field of Dreams” where the story is told about Dr. Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham (based on a real Minnesota physician buried near Mayo Clinic) and how shop keepers would keep blue hats in their windows because they knew Mrs. Graham loved blue hats. They also knew Doc Graham would buy them if he saw them in the window, and how he would hide them for surprises for his wife. The story also goes that after Doc’s death, they found some boxes of blue hats in his office which were still waiting to surprise doc’s wife.

    Great story.

  15. Anita says:

    Gordon: Thanks for reminding me of that story from Field of Dreams (Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe).

  16. Claudine says:

    I’ve been trying to remember the name of this book for so long! I can’t wait to get it now and read it to my daughter. I’m sure she will love it as much as I did.

  17. Hi Anita,
    I’ve just discovered you by way of anniecardi who left a message on a post I did. I always go to see the blog of whoever leaves a comment on mine…and she had a link to your Caps for Sale post.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog! How creative! What an awesome resource for teachers and parents! I’m passionate about picture books…and use them to help kids cope with the challenges they encounter…in addition to just enjoying the illustrations and stories. I hope you will have a chance to visit my blog: http://www.viviankirkfield.wordpress.com
    I’ve issued a challenge to parents to read a picture book with their children every day.

    Caps for Sale has always been one of my favorites…and a favorite of little ones as well!

  18. Back again. 🙂 Another great hat story: Zara’s Hats by Paul Meisel. I wrote a book in 2010 that pinpoints and summarizes 100 classic picture books that every young child should hear. Kind of like The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. But mine gives a related craft project and a child-friendly recipe for each story. 🙂

  19. Lori H. says:

    Laura Geringer wrote my favorite hat story: Three Hat Day, illustrated by Arnold Lobel. It’s a charmer!

  20. Diane V. says:

    Caps for Sale was always one of my favorite books to read to children at story time. The children would first decorate their own caps and then we would read the story-they loved getting to be the monkeys!

  21. S.Matt Read says:

    I just found this book in my home, in the bathroom of all places. It didn’t fit the profile of any of the science or math types that I live with, but it wasn’t hard to figure out who left it. It was placed there by our friend’s two-year-old girl who visits our home often. She loves it dearly. How the book helps with going potty, I’ll never know, but it is truly a delight to read.

  22. Donna says:

    My nephews and I love this book so much! As for hats, if you do not already know it (although I’m sure you do), you must find Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau! An absolute delight!

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