• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #121: Pezzo the Peddler


Fifty cents a cap!

Esphyr Slobodkina's Caps for Sale is an absolute classic of children's literature. The illustrations are stylized and bright, the writing is brisk and poetic. Anyone with kids knows this one. I practically memorized this book reading it to our guys (as did they - Bobby had all the lines to this one committed to memory before he was three). And why not? It's got monkeys and a guy who can balance seventeen hats on his head and walk down the street. He belongs in a circus (and gets his chance in the less-celebrated sequel, Circus Caps for Sale).

Pezzo (the hat peddler himself) finds himself on this list because I adore his resilience in the face of struggle. He hits a dry spell shilling his caps, something anyone with sales experience can understand. He's hungry, he's tired, but he's not beaten. Like any struggling salesman, he takes a nap (a long nap), and wakes up refreshed and rested and ready to get back to pounding the pavement. Except his wares have been stolen. By monkeys in a tree.

(Sidebar: I've always wondered where this story takes place. Slobodkina was born in Siberia in 1908 and emigrated to the US at 21, but the artwork suggests someplace in southern or eastern Europe. And yet outside of Gibraltar, there are no wild monkeys anywhere in Europe. These monkeys must be escaped from a zoo, or perhaps we're in North Africa. I remain stymied. End sidebar.)

Pezzo needs his caps back; it's all of his stock. All of his red ones, blue ones, brown ones, gray ones. He tries patiently but firmly to ask the monkeys to return the hats, but their repeated refusal leads him to steadily increasing agitation, and finally to the brink of surrender. Luck saves him, when his gesture in defeat of throwing down his hat leads the monkeys to mimic him, and the caps come raining down. With equanimity, Pezzo stacks the caps, and off he goes. I always find myself rooting for the guy to make a sale after he's left us. Maybe one of the red ones. They're usually a big seller.

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