“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.” (from Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina)
Caps For Sale is probably my favorite picture book of all time. I can never exactly put my finger on the reason why I love it so. May be it’s because my grandmother used to read it to me. May be it’s because it’s one of the first books I read aloud to children and saw their faces alight with interest and humor. May be it’s the charming illustrations. May be it’s because beneath a simple story lies an age-old truth, that little monkeys will always do as you do and not as you say.
My little boy is now thirteen months old. I thought I would miss my little bundle of baby when he started turning into a toddler, but he just gets more fun every day. For weeks now he’s been imitating certain words we say and the sounds of dogs and birds in the neighborhood. When he flips open my cell phone and holds it up to his ear, he says, “Haaa!” You read that right. He drawls out the long i sound, making it into a short a sound, just like his Texas mama. As we walked through Hobby Lobby yesterday we made a game of it. I’d say, “Mama.” He’d say, “mamamamama.” I’d say, “Dada.” He’s say, “dadadadadada.” I’d say, “Katie Faye (the name we call my mother),” and he’d pause before saying, “kay kay kay ffffff!” When we checked out the cashier said, “Bye bye!” He said, “babababa!”
But this morning, when he grabbed the keys out of my purse, went to the front door, stood on tiptoes and tried to jam them into the doorknob, I realized just how much he notices about what we do. Minutes later, he got a pen off of my husband’s desk and tried to write on a piece of paper that had fallen from the printer tray! He not only sees what we do, he does what we do. This is not a cliché or a platitude. Little eyes are watching. This is my real life and it’s time for some real grace. I want him to be able to do as I do with no embarrassment or shame. I want so much to pass on good habits and healing words (even if they do come out with a West Texas drawl). Today, we are reading Caps For Sale, for my benefit, not his.
One last thing about Caps For Sale. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I’m a real sucker for dedications. My method of book browsing goes something like this: I am attracted by a good title and a nice cover design. If it has one or the other, I’ll probably open it and look for the dedication. If it has a good dedication, I’ll definitely read it. If it doesn’t, I’ll flip through and see if any words jump off of the page at me to make me want to read it. I always fight the urge to turn to the last page, but it’s always a temptation. This is why I hate it when the dedication is at the end of the book. Anyway, I will occasionally share with you a dedication that I particularly enjoy and Esphyr Slobodkina’s in Caps For Sale is this: To Rosalind and Emmy Jean, and to their grandfather who loved to read to them. There’s something about that that just tenders my heart. The book was first published in 1940, before research told us that we should read to kids. I like to think he did it for the sheer pleasure of seeing the joy on their faces, the anticipation of the story’s climax, the satisfaction of the happily-ever-afters.