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The Pushcart War: 50th Anniversary Edition (The New York Review Children's Collection) Hardcover – Deluxe Edition, September 16, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—It's war! The battlefields are the streets of New York City, and the weapons are pea shooters. Up in arms because traffic jams slow down their deliveries, the truck owners aim to get the pushcarts out of the picture. But the pushcart peddlers won't go down without a fight. The setting of this 50th-anniversary edition has been updated to 2036 (the book originally was set in 1974, and each edition has updated the year in which it takes place to reflect a not-too-distant future). An unusual children's book—few children actually appear—SLJ included this innovative work on its "One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century" and lauded it as "social satire for children in its finest form." As with many of the late author's books, Merrill tells with dexterity the tale of underdogs who persevere in the face of injustice. This strikingly original work should continue to find fans among children and adults alike.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“The Pushcart War had a profound impact on me; when I was a kid I devoured it several times, and I’ve carried it deep inside me ever since. The book gave me a point of entrance—my first, I imagine—into the world of resistance to political and economic injustice and chicanery. It made opposition, even non-violent civil disobedience, seem fun and right and necessary and heroic, and something even someone as powerless as a kid could and should undertake.” —Tony Kushner
“Finally, parents can get their hands on new copies of the best book about politics ever written for children…What makes The Pushcart War so wonderful is not simply its inventive premise or its deftly-sketched cast of characters…These elements alone would have made the book a great deal of fun, but Merrill accomplishes something greater. She manages to put together a plot that introduces children to almost every element of a political controversy…this lively, lovely novel is an argument for staying hopeful about the possibility of bringing about change, even when you are going up against entrenched and powerful interests.” —Alyssa Rosenberg, The Washington Post
“The definitive history of New York’s war between the pushcarts and the trucks is one of those rarities—a book that is both humorous and downright funny. Such a lively book will need little introducing; once a boy or girl discovers it, the news will spread.” —The Horn Book Magazine
“This is satire on almost every conceivable aspect of modern urban life...To all it should be funny, and to many it will have the disturbing ring of truth.” —School Library Journal, starred review
“An utterly captivating book...the satire cuts deep into some of our most hallowed institutions. Best of all, the dialogue and situations are irresistibly funny.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Merrill’s story, full of unexpected reversals and understated witticisms, feels exceptionally modern. And by the end—after the two sides have hammered out a peaceful and deeply reasonable compromise—one can only hope that we’ll catch up to Merrill’s future one day.” —Adam Mansbach, NPR, You Must Read This
"I’ve been reading Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War (NYRB’s fiftieth anniversary edition) to my son every night, a few chapters at a time...In truth, I’m as excited as he is to read it. The tale of New York’s pushcart peddlers waging war against the monstrous, bullying trucks is droll—as are Ronni Solbert’s illustrations—but its message remains urgent; Merrill writes expansively, giving air to the intrigue, to the peddler’s personalities, and to what’s at stake for people who don’t have money or influence...[A]n entertaining lesson on nonviolent civil disobedience, standing up for the rights and the dignity of the little guy, and how to make a sturdy peashooter." —Nicole Rudick, The Paris Review
"This is one of the great children's classics, the tale of how a dispute between delivery truck drivers and pushcart vendors blossomed into full-scale armed conflict. Part of its charm is its old-New York quaintness, but the exciting story, set in the pressure-cooker of city traffic, is timeless.” —Sonja Bolle, Knoxville News
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Top Customer Reviews
Now I'm glad I read a 1964 edition of this book because it gets a little confusing at the beginning. The book begins with a Foreword by Professor Lyman Cumberly of New York University (author of "The Large Object Theory of History"). This Forward, dated 1986, reflects on the events of the New York Pushcart War and offers some insight. Here I am, 26 years of age, and I honestly thought that this was a real professor writing a real preface. Then I saw the copyright date and I figured it out. This was a fictional professor writing some 20 years in the "future" when the town was able to sort out the events as they occurred. Still, the book is written in a somewhat original and scholarly fashion. There are photographs and scripts and letters to editors and all sorts of cool little touches that make it seem like a real historical document. Which of course makes the story itself that much more amusing.
The events of the Pushcart War began when trucking companies in New York starting making their trucks bigger and bigger. This, in turn, made traffic far more congested and for the trucking companies there was a definite danger that people would insist that the trucks no longer stay so large. In a sense of misguided self-preservation, the truckers decide to blame the simple pushcart vendors on the streets for the traffic. By carefully spreading misinformation and attacking the pushcarts with a series of "accidents" the pushcart vendors find themselves in trouble. Their only recourse is to fight back, and they do so with a series of clever ideas. As the war escalates, so too do the pushcart vendors' strategies. In the end, not a single person has been killed and for once the little guy has beaten the bigger one.
In the Foreword, this sentence sums up the book: "...big wars are caused by the same sort of problems that led to the Pushcart War". True enough, some wars ARE caused by the problems found in this book. There are some wonderful touches in this story that will give adult readers an extra laugh. For example, the mayor of New York is in the pay of the big truckers and gives a speech about them while running for reelection. In it, he explains that big trucks mean bigger business, and hence - progress. If you want to ship a lot of peanut butter, you need a big truck. The candidate then goes on to say, "My opponent, Archie Love, is against trucks. He is, therefore, against progress. Maybe he is even against peanut butter". We've all heard fifty different versions of this speech in our time. Chalk this silly little sentence up to Jean Merrill's sly writing skills.
I love the characters in this story and the silly battles that are pitched. Because it was written in 1964 there is the odd reference once to "lady drivers", but it comes off as quaint rather than offensive. This is also definitely a New York creation. The original illustrations by Ronni Solbert look like nothing so much as small New Yorker cartoons turned into illustrations. Honestly, if you want a way of explaining to kids how some wars are begun (recent wars, unfortunately, don't quite fit this mold, but that's okay) this is a great way to do it. I was especially taken with the pushcart vendors' non-violent response, culminating in a honest-to-goodness peace march near the end.
Why don't more people know about this book? Why is it slowly but surely being forgotten by the masses? People, if I had my way I'd assign this book to every man, woman, and child living in the United States today. I'd shout its wonders from the rooftops and glorify it in song. I would, in short, force the world to admit that it's a classic tale. Until I'm able to do so, however, I urge you to read it yourself. You'll be delighted by its wit and wisdom as well as author Jean Merrill's great storytelling skills. Never forget it again.
The characters are very good -- mostly poor immigrants for the pushcart people and tough-guy types for the truckers. There's a bit of stereotyping there, but it's still well done. How about this for a wonderful character analysis: "Of The Three, it is Louie Livergreen that I would be afraid of, and I think that is because his voice is as good as a smooth grade of motor oil, whether he is saying something perfectly pleasant or something terrible. If somebody says something terrible in a pleasant tone of voice, I get very nervous. I would feel better if they yelled."
This is the classic powerless-people-holding-true-to-their-principles,-willing-to-fight story. This book is Atticus Finch... It is the Battle of Thermopylae (but with a happier ending)... It is Tianenman Square... It is Braveheart... It is the Warsaw Ghetto uprising... It is Patrick Henry... It is the Tea Party movement... It is Polish solidarity... It's Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968... It's David vs. Goliath...
The underdog pushcarts stand up against the brute force of the truckers, and through ingenuity and decency, strike a blow against corrupt, indifferent thuggishness.
Along the way, Jean Merrill gives us lovely literature (but bad economics). The story just moves -- reading it out loud to my kids was a joy. And there is humor! Everything the trucks deliver begins with the letter P. Maxie turns out to be an expert poker player. The author herself makes a cameo, through a letter to the editor.
Give it a shot.
***update *** I read aloud to my whole family, and younger children may not always follow a story like this very well. I just read the book "Castle on Hester Street" by Boris Kulikov, that shows being an immigrant (like the pushcart folks), and may give some visual grounding to younger children.
I bought it for my gifted (and extraordinarily beautiful, of course) pre- or early-teen grandchildren, but found myself having to
read it first. So they didn't get it for Christmas. But I'll try to get them into it in the next month or two, whenever a teachable
moment comes along.
If you are beyond the age of twelve and reading this book, you get a pretty good picture of old New York City. You will also notice that many (if not all) the characters that play significant parts in the Pushcart REVOLUTION (yeah, I bet that's what the author really wanted to name this book) belong to various minority groups - the only hint might be their names or the way they form certain phrases in dialogue, but if you look for it, it is there. Of course, whoever lived in NYC during that time knows from experience that most of the pushcart vendors were immigrants or somehow different from the majority, so it won't come as a surprise; but Jean Merrill works it in artfully, without being obvious.
This is a book that I enjoy rereading every few years.