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The Pushcart War Paperback – May 1, 1987

4.7 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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 the School & Library Binding edition.


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 nonviolent 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. . . . 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

 “A book about friendship and sticking together and sticking up for yourself, especially against The Man. Plus it’ll just make you feel all warm and fuzzy.” —Emily Temple, Flavorwire

 “This is one of the great children’s classics. . . . 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, Newsday

 “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

 “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

“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.” —Nicole Rudick, The Paris Review  blog

“There’s a children’s book that was of great help to me, The Pushcart War  by Jean Merrill. It is quite a wonderful description of how to run a campaign.” —Bill McKibben, The Boston Globe --This text refers to the School & Library Binding edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 1020L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling (May 1, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440471478
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440471479
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #852,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
When I decided to read all the great children's books written in the English language (this project isn't going as quickly as I had hoped it would) I made a list. While writing it, something in the back of my mind reminded me that when I was a kid a book often mentioned was the 1964 title, "The Pushcart War". I had never read it when I was younger, but I had clear memories of people discussing it with vim and vigor. Seeking it out, I decided to read it for my very self. What I discovered was that this book has been unmercifully forgotten. Here we have one of the greatest parables of the 20th century and how many kids today have read it? How many kids will read it in the next 30 years? Ladies and gentlemen, if you know a child, any child, that has the ability to read you must make it your American duty to seek out a copy of this book, purchase it, and thrust it into the hands of your young acquaintance. This is one of the best books I have ever read.

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.
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Format: Paperback
I read THE PUSHCART WAR as part of a reading program when I was in fifth grade, and of all the books I read that year, this is the one of only two that stuck with me.
In the late eighties I found the book back in print, and I snatched the copy off the shelf to read to my then-seven year-old son. When I did, I made a wonderful discovery... that THE PUSHCART WAR was even more fun to read as an adult... so much so that this book would have an impact on my own writing.
THE PUSHCART WAR is not just for kids. I am in my forties now, and I still find myself going back to re-read this one. I have read it to both of my children and they love it, too. And I hope they're eavesdropping when I read it to their children -- and discover the whole subtle world of adult satire that this delightful book conceals.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book because I'm a big fan of Merrill's book THE TOOTHPASTE MILLIONAIRE (ISBN 0395960630) and I wanted to see some of the others she'd written.

The book is set in crowded 1960s New York City where a turf war of sorts is evolving between taxis, cars, trucks, and street vendors. A fight for a parking space between one of the huge truck's drivers (Merrill names him "Mack" in a clever injoke) and "Morris the Florist", a pushcart peddler, ends in an accident that launches a witty all-out battle for street supremacy. The writing is fast paced, clever, and doesn't "talk down" to its intended audience of children. (I'd think grades 4 through 7 are the most likely targeted group.)

*** Some minor spoilers ahead ***

The tale on the surface is clever enough, but this book is multi-layered. Predominantly, it's an allegory for war in general, though I'd not single out any specific skirmish.

I see allusions to the Revolutionary War's Boston Tea Party and Stamp Act. When children who've joined the cause shoot tacks at trucks to flatten their tires, the city's mayor, in collusion with the trucking firms, levies a sizable tax on tacks in the hopes kids won't be able to afford them.

As far as World War 2 Naziism, the truckers' evil Master Plan would first get rid of pushcarts, then motorcycles, working their way up to taxis and cars so that they can move about on the roads more freely reasoning that the bigger vehicles move more commerce and should get more space. Later on we learn that smaller TRUCKS are also targeted by the "Big Three" behind the plan, an obvious reference to the famous quote about "When they came for the Poles, I didn't speak out because I was not Polish. Then when they came for me, there was no one to speak out for me..
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Format: Paperback
I first read THE PUSHCART WAR as a politically-aware sixth grader in 1971 at the nadir of America's involvement in Southeast Asia. As an indictment of, and a primer on, the causes of war, THE PUSHCART WAR is unparalleled. This little-known book should be on everyone's bookshelf, next to THE ENORMOUS EGG, another children's classic on American democracy. THE PUSHCART WAR is written as an actual history, from a vantage point ten years in the future.

THE PUSHCART WAR takes place in a New York City choked with traffic and secretly controlled by powerful business interests (the truck line owners Big Moe Mammoth, Louie Livergreen, and Walter "The Tiger" Sweet) that have co-opted the political machine of Mayor Emmett P. Cudd. "The Three" are determined to see their trucking businesses entirely dominate the city. To that end, they create a Master Plan to eliminate all other competition for the New York streets, first pushcarts, then cars, taxis and buses, and finally even small trucks.

The war begins with The Daffodil Massacre, as Morris The Florist's pushcart is destroyed and the hapless Morris finds himself upside down inside a pickle barrel. It does not take long for the pushcart owners to realize they are being targeted. They soon organize, fighting back with peashooters against the marauding trucks. Along the way, the pushcart warriors (almost all New Americans with names like Peretz, Moroney, Jerusalem, Carlos, and Hammerman) are aided by a high-profile celebrity (the movie star Wanda Gambling), a political aspirant (Mayoral candidate Archie Love), a disaffected trucker (Joey Kafflis), a Police Commissioner quietly engaging in Civil Disobedience against his own leaders, and finally the general public, who engage in a massive letter-writing campaign that topples The Three.
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