Thursday, January 04, 2007

Caps for Sale

I have fond memories of reading this delightful folktale during my childhood. Titled, "Kulla Vyabaari" meaning, The Cap Seller, it was one of the stories in my 1st/2nd grade/std Tamil textbook. This is one story I recollect very well, and I loved it as a child. I was thrilled to find the same story for my older daughter in a picture book format titled "Caps for Sale."

Past reviews mentioned that this book was published first in the 1940s,and has sold over 2 million copies. It seemed like a classic tale that was universally told across many different cultures. So I decided to get hold of this book for my daughter, and in fact it was the first story I read to her that had a simple and clear plot when she was close to 3.

The author and illustrator, Esphyr Slobodkina has created many wonderful children's books in the 20th century. Caps for Sale was written before WWII. She has illustrated many books for Margaret Wise Brown back in the 30s and 40s.

Caps for Sale is a great story with a simple plot and has a clear structure - a beginning, middle and end. It tells the story of a peddler who sells caps by carrying the entire "inventory" piled on his head and carefully balancing all 16 of them plus his very own checked cap, and calls - "Caps! Caps for Sale! Fifty cents a cap! Peddler has to walk straight so as not to spill his hats.

One morning, our dear peddler couldn't sell any caps - not even a red cap. Feeling hungry and with no money for lunch, he decided to go for a walk in the country and fell asleep under a tree with the caps stacked up high on his head. When he woke all the caps were gone but one. Right above the tree he was sleeping under were monkeys sitting - one on each branch, and each one was wearing one of the peddler's new hats. Well, we all know how the "angry peddler" manages to get back his cap! Had to have a moral! Well, in this case, a slightly different one - Losing one's temper can lead to desirable solutions when used appropriately by both children and adults! :-)

To add some personal stories - I once tried to pique my daughter's brain by asking - Why didn't the monkeys take the peddler's checked cap? I let her think for a minute, and she answered "The monkeys didn't like the checked cap - they liked only colorful ones.." Good one, I thought. I then gave my reasoning to her, "Well, there were only 16 monkeys on the tree, and each monkey wanted just one cap. Had there been 17 monkeys, then our dear peddler's cap would have gotten stolen too, and he would have never gotten all his caps back.." Not sure if that made sense to her...But I am sure we will read this story several times in the coming years, and I can't wait for her to ask me - "Mom, didn't the monkeys know that the caps would fall when they copied what the peddler did?" And then I can tell her "Well, monkeys don't understand gravity!" :-)

Aside from the simplistic plot, there are other elements in the book that can be conceptually interesting for preschoolers...

1) Great for introducing counting - the 16 caps - 4 caps each in 4 different colors plus the peddler's very own checked cap!

2) Great for talking about colors - gray, brown, blue and red. Since the illustrations are vintage, they are not too catchy and not that bright. The use of lines in the drawings is interesting, and little ones can have fun looking for details in the images. It is interesting that the brown and the blue caps are a different shade in my copy of the book, and for a while I couldn't convince my daughter about those two colors of caps. She has a keen eye for colors, and argued with me that the brown wasn't exactly brown instead has shades of yellow, and the blue looked like gray in fact.

3) Simple, repetitive text helped my preschooler memorize the words. I have always enjoyed enacting this story by talking like "Babu Bhat" of Seinfeld fame(My miserable attempts at mimicry, and stand-up comedy for my family!!:-) ) -
Babu's voice works really well for - "The peddler looked to the right - No caps. He looked to the left - no caps. You Monkeys you! You Give me back my caps"...
Here's another imagination - The voice of Montgomery Burns (from The Simpsons) might work well too, if you want to imitate the angry peddler! And Burns' logic/moral would be - Never steal others' goods ye. Even if you do, don't copy acts that would lead to your downfall similar to the downfall of the caps that the monkeys stole! :-)

Try enacting the story with your little ones. It can be lot of fun!

Caps for Sale or The Capseller in any language can be an enjoyable story for your entire family. It is a timeless classic. A perfect 'excuse' to have this book even as an adult :-)


B o o said...

Oh, I have fond memories of this story too. It was so good to read about it here. I did nt think this and some other stories my grandma told me had actual authors!! Silly me! ;) Keep up the good work you guys are doing here!

Tharini said...

Loved this story P. Was first told to me by my Patti, so very fond memories there. Great and lively review!

sathish said...

cool.. I did not realise this story is not based from india.
Almost every child in India has heard about this 'kulla vyabari' story that I thought it was of indian origin.

thanks for that information regarding the history of this story..

Anonymous said...

I loved this book, too. Thanks for writing about it! And Happy New Year!

Meera Sriram said...

Nice pick Praba. I've been telling this story to my daughter for a few months now. I actually became aware of the tale being more global during my search for the storybook.

Sathish and Ranjani, glad to have you on the Tree! "My Friend, the Sea" is something that I am curious to read myself.

Tharini, I picked up this book, the past Diwali, it is a bilingual one from Meera Masi.
Here is the link -

My warm New Year wishes to you and your folks!


Bkbuds said...

Somehow I never read this as a kid, but I've read it several times as an adult. Thanks for spotlighting it. Happy New Year!

Praba Ram said...

Thanks for all your comments. So nice to connect on a story that we all have read/heard as children from different parts of the world, and to be able to offer to that to our own kids - indeed a very special experience, isn't it? It's all about the "simple pleasures" and that is one of my goals for 2007!

Enjoyed reading all your comments!



mommyof2 said...

very nice review:-) I just read this story to my son last week:-)

Unknown said...

Dear Praba, I'm trying to find the original folk tale that Slobodkina embellished.

Was this a story you knew in India before the Caps For Sale book?

Daniel Dorff

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