Bilbliographic Information (best version for telling):

Slobodkina, Esphyr. Caps for Sale: a tale of a peddler, some monkeys, and their monkey business. New York: Harper & Row, 1940,1968.


Ethnic Origin: 

Europe (specific country unknown, presumably Eastern Europe)     


Running Time: 

Approximately 5 minutes


Power Centers:          

Discouragement of the peddler

Naughtiness/silliness of the monkeys

Frustration of the peddler

The peddler’s appreciation of the humor of his situation at the end



the peddler

the monkeys



1) The peddler in town

2) The peddler walks into the country

3) He rests under a tree

4) He interacts with the monkeys!

5) The peddler returns to town



A peddler, who carries his wares (caps) stacked on his head very carefully, is unable to sell any of his caps in town one day. Discouraged and hungry, he decides to take a walk in the country just outside of town. He stops to nap under an apple tree. His snoring attracts the attention of the monkeys (monkeys in Europe!?!) who live in the tree, and they come down to investigate. Each monkey takes one of the caps on the peddler’s head, and goes back up the tree. When the peddler awakes, he misses his caps, and then notices the monkeys. The peddler tries to scold the monkeys into returning the caps, but they simply mimic everything he does. Fed up, he throws his cap to the ground and begins to leave, but then the caps come raining down in response. The peddler laughs and stacks his caps back on his head very carefully, and then returns to town.


Rhymes/Special Phrases/Flavor:          

-          “Caps for sale! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!”

-          Grey caps, brown caps, blue caps, red caps

-          “…carefully, so as not to upset his caps.”

-          Pantomime action of stacking the caps on the peddler’s head


Audience (why appropriate? developmental characteristics?):        

From personal experience I think Caps for Sale works well for preschoolers, and it also fulfills some of the developmental stage requirements we discussed in class. Piaget mentions that repetition is very important for this age group, and this tale has lots of it. The peddler’s cry is repeated at the beginning and end, and there are at least three instances of naming the colors of the caps. There is also repetition of action (the peddler does A, the monkeys do A, the peddler does B, etc.), which allows the kids to anticipate the outcome of the story. Huck describes preschoolers as being egocentric and having a short attention span. Since we stay with the perspective of the peddler throughout the story, small children should not become confused. To keep their attention, the story is brief and has monkeys; what is more entertaining than monkeys? Assumedly preschool-aged children will be unaware that there are no native (non-human) primates in Europe, so monkeys in an apple tree shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Erikson and Huck do mention the importance of fantasy at this age, however, and this story is a nice mix of the improbable and the true.


Bibliographic information on other versions/variants:

Diakite, Baba Wague. The Hatseller and the Monkeys. New York: Scholastic Press, 1999.

(from Mali, Africa)


Williams-Ellis, Amabel. “The Fifty Red Night-caps.” Tales from the Enchanted World. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1986.

(from England)


Brief comparison of all versions/variants (language, rhythm, tellability, content, etc.):                 

            Each of these tales has a very different feel; the only common thread is that monkeys seem to like hats. It was slightly difficult to find variants on this theme, because the UNC libraries do not carry the books on this theme listed in the Storyteller’s Sourcebook. After a few hours spent browsing the children’s section of the Chapel Hill Library, however, I found these two tales:

            The English variant, The Fifty Red Night Caps, is very milktoast and was quickly rejected as a “telling” version. There is little character description, so we have no feel for what kind of man the hatseller is, or what makes the monkeys mischevious. The man is carrying the caps in a shoulder bag instead of on his head, and the first thing he does is throw down his hat – there is no buildup of action.

            I really liked the African tale of The Hatseller and the Monkeys. BaMusa is a likeable main character, and we are given some background about why and how he became a hatseller. This variant also has a good moral at the end. BaMusa skipped breakfast the day the monkeys took his hats, and it is only after he has eaten some mangoes and alleviated his hunger that he can think clearly enough to know how to get them back. He also sings a song about hatselling in the native language of Mali; this is a very colorful and enjoyable tale, and I would like to add it to my repetoire for school age kids. It is longer and more complex, and I think they would appreciate the cultural details in it more than would preschoolers.

            When I finally needed to decide, I had to choose Slobodkina’s Caps for Sale. It seems to have all of the right elements for toddlers, and is so fun to tell. I also enjoy saying “caps” rather than “hats” for some reason. This was the story I learned to read when I was four, and I love it the best.