Esphyr Slobodkina was born on September 22, 1908 in Chelyabinsk, Siberia. She was named after Queen Esther, although it is pronounced es-fear in Russian.
Her father was a manager for an oil company, but the Russian Revolution created an unstable and dangerous climate for this Jewish family. They moved to Vladivostok and then to Harbin, Manchuria. As she wrote, it was a time of “riches to rags.” Her father finally found a job with Standard Oil and her mother worked very hard as a dressmaker in order to put her children through school.
In 1927, having finished high school, Ms. Slobodkina emigrated to America, joining her brother in New York City. The family lived on 135th and Riverside Drive in an apartment where they frequently hosted other roomers in order to pay the rent. Ms. Slobodkina went to the National Academy of Design. A friend introduced her to Margaret Wise Brown, who liked the simple collage style of Ms. Slobodkina’s illustrations. She asked her to illustrate The Little Fireman. Later, Ms. Slobodkina wrote and illustrated Caps for Sale, which is now considered a children’s classic.
She went on to write and illustrate 20 additional children’s books. She is a founding member of the American Abstract Artists and of the American Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors. Her work is represented at several museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Caps for Sale won a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958. Ms. Slobodkina died on Long Island in July 2002.