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The pushcart war Hardcover – 1985
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Note: early versions of this book set the time frame of The Pushcart War as being years after the book was written, but being told as if in the past. I'm assuming that as time went on, they continued to change the years, as the latest version I have seen lists a more recent decade than the 1970s for when the war took place. I find it a little harder to place this in current-day Manhattan, so I would rather have seen an explanation in the front of the book and kept the dates of the war the same as originally written. I'd take off a small fraction of a star for that.
Loved reading this in grade school. My husband and middle-school daughter loved it when we read it aloud years ago, and I recently introduced and adult friend to it who like it as well.
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.