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Q: Looking for title of old children's book ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: Looking for title of old children's book
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: rjyanco-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 13 Jun 2002 14:20 PDT
Expires: 13 Jul 2002 14:20 PDT
Question ID: 25391
I have a faint recollection of a book from when I was a kid, but I
can't remember the title (and you can't really search for a book
online without a title).

The story was about an illiterate man, I guess something between
40-60, married, otherwise normal.

His wife sends him to the market to buy food, or maybe he goes on his
own, but he's never been there before.  When he gets to the market, he
buys things based on the shape of the boxes.  (There are no pictures
on the boxes, only words -- which of course he can't read.)

The man arrives home and discovers that instead of spaghetti, he
bought wax paper.  Instead of another food item, he bought soap
flakes.  And so on.

I think at the end, having seen the error of his ways, he learned to


Since I'm 30 I'd guess the book is at least 25 years old, maybe much

The question is... what's the title of this book?  (If you have the
book, please give a few details not mentioned above, so I know you're
right before I order it...)


Clarification of Question by rjyanco-ga on 14 Jun 2002 07:52 PDT
Arlene, I think you're right about the title.  I found a picture of
the book online and although I'm not 100% sure that's the book, it
seems consistent with what I remember.
Subject: Re: Looking for title of old children's book
Answered By: actualwolf-ga on 14 Jun 2002 11:09 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

I remember that book!

I too read it when I was younger. 

It is called "The Little Old Man Who Could Not Read" by Irma Black.

The story is about an elderly toy maker who can't read.  He wants to
learn how so he can read the letters that children send him.  He is
convinced that he needs to become literate when his wife sends him to
do the shopping.  When he gets there he selects items based on his
familiarity with the shapes of the boxes.  This does not work: when he
arrives home he discovers that he picked the wrong items.  The can of
soup he purchased was in fact Onion soup, which he doesn't like.  And
what he thought was a box spaghetti noodles was wax paper.

I don't remember exactly how the story ends, but he does eventually
learn to read.

I found the following references online that might be of use to you.

Here's the Library of Congress listing:

Here's the Powells listing:

Here's the Amazon listing:

Looks like it's out of print and VERY expensive.

Hope this is helpful enough!


Search terms:

"Little old man who couldn't read"
"little old man that could not read"

sites used:


Library of Congress Catalog 

Powell's Books
rjyanco-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Believe it or not, I remember the bit about the soup.  Thanks!

Subject: Re: Looking for title of old children's book
From: googlebrain-ga on 13 Jun 2002 15:23 PDT
Ok, this has very little to do with your question, but your story
synopsys reminded me of some Urban Legends I'd heard based on the same
idea (Illiterate people identifying products by box shape/pictures on

This page tells of (supposedly) people who thought that The Gerber
Baby was IN the Jar, and the old classic Crisco/Chicken.

Adding a little humor to your day...
Subject: Re: Looking for title of old children's book
From: plant-ga on 13 Jun 2002 21:39 PDT
I read that book too!

Now I'm sitting here thinking "Darn it, what WAS that book called?!?"

(I'm 21, so it was still around ten years after you read it)
Subject: Re: Looking for title of old children's book
From: arlenegreen-ga on 14 Jun 2002 05:15 PDT
I think what you are looking for is The Little Old Man Who Could Not
Read. It is by I.S. Black and was published in 1968, which is the
right timeframe. Apt title, too. :)
Subject: Re: Looking for title of old children's book
From: juggler-ga on 14 Jun 2002 10:22 PDT
Just to add on to what Arlene said...
This is the Library of Congress description of "The Little Old Man Who
Could Not Read":
"An old toymaker never wanted to learn to read until his wife went
away on a visit and he had to do the shopping by himself."

Definitely sounds like your book!

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