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The Pushcart War

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It’s a story of how regular people banded together and, armed with little more than their brains and good aim, defeated a mighty foe.

Not long ago the streets of New York City were smelly, smoggy, sooty, and loud. There were so many trucks making deliveries that it might take an hour for a car to travel a few blocks. People blamed the truck owners and the truck owners blamed the little wooden pushcarts that traveled the city selling everything from flowers to hot dogs. Behind closed doors the truck owners declared war on the pushcart peddlers. Carts were smashed from Chinatown to Chelsea. The peddlers didn’t have money or the mayor on their side, but that didn’t stop them from fighting back. They used pea shooters to blow tacks into the tires of trucks, they outwitted the police, and they marched right up to the grilles of those giant trucks and dared them to drive down their streets. Today, thanks to the ingenuity of the pushcart peddlers, the streets belong to the people—and to the pushcarts.

The Pushcart War was first published more than fifty years ago. It has inspired generations of children and been adapted for television, radio, and the stage around the world. It was included on School Library Journal’s list of One Hundred Books That Shaped the Twentieth Century, and its assertion that a committed group of men and women can prevail against a powerful force is as relevant in the twenty-first century as it was in 1964.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1964

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Jean Merrill

45 books17 followers
Jean Fairbanks Merrill.

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5 stars
2,060 (44%)
4 stars
1,574 (34%)
3 stars
754 (16%)
2 stars
143 (3%)
1 star
57 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 505 reviews
Profile Image for Rachel.
69 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2007
One of my favorite books from childhood, it tells the story of a war in New York City in 1986 between the pushcarts and the trucks. It reads so realistically that I always thought it was true, and I always wanted to go down to Bleecker Street to take place in the annual reenactment.
Profile Image for Brian Yahn.
310 reviews594 followers
February 18, 2016
The prose is cute in the Pushcart War and the cartoon-like characters even cuter, but overall this is a plot-driven story about a war between truckers and pushcart peddlers, and exactly like that sounds, it's not very interesting... especially to the children it's written for.

Almost everything that makes Animal Farm a masterpiece is noticeably absent here. It might be cute (at times), but it's almost never funny. The characters might be a little batty, but they're not written well enough to pull of their roles without seeming out of place. And worst of all, the war they fight in is mostly a bore.
Profile Image for Linda Hart.
733 reviews140 followers
March 27, 2019
This was a complimentary book for audible readers a few months ago and I really enjoyed it. It was clever, very entertaining, and a quick read that would provide deep material for a good adult book club or middle school class discussion. I will look for more books by this author.
Profile Image for Rich Stoehr.
229 reviews43 followers
May 10, 2010
"The Pushcart War started on the afternoon of March 15, 1986, when a truck ran down a pushcart belonging to a flower peddler."

So begins "The Pushcart War" by Jean Merrill, one of my favorite books when I was a child and one of the books that has endured as a favorite still today. A small, little-known book of a little over 200 pages, a book that can be read fairly easily in a single rainy afternoon, if one is so inclined.

"The Pushcart War" is the story of a "little" war on the streets of New York, a war that begins between the old-fashioned pushcart peddlers selling their wares at the sides of the street, and the oversized trucks which are bullying their way into more and more of the available space on the road. It starts with the destruction of a single pushcart by an angry truck driver, but escalates into multiple campaigns, strategies, and political countermeasures as the story goes on. The memorable Pea-Shooter campaign, the Peanut-Butter Speech, the Tacks Tax, the Raid on Maxie Hammerman's, the Portlette Papers, the Capture of the Bulletproof Italian Car, the Truce, the Peace March, the War of Words, and the Battle of Bleecker Street are only a few of the notable moments of the progression of the war, which eventually involves most of the citizens of the city, and becomes known by national and even international figures, including a movie star and the President of the United States.

So many books for children have a tendency to take themselves and the morals they espouse so seriously, but fortunately "The Pushcart War" is not one of those books. While it does have a point to make, it makes it with light heart and always with a good sense of humor. The story of the struggling pushcart peddlers and the bullying trucks becomes a miniature view for all conflicts between an oppressive groups and their chosen victims, and the lesson is that anyone can find a way to fight back, no matter how the odds are stacked against them. The ideas of civil disobedience and equal rights, as well as the essentially silly but potentially harmful nature of politics, are all expressed here.

However, these themes are only the backdrop of the story, which is above all else infectiously entertaining and irresistible. Despite a gap of nearly 20 years between my original reading of it and my recent one, I find it is a story which has stuck with me through the years, one which I cannot forget. The characters (Frank the Flower, Harry the Hot Dog, and General Anna among them) are quickly but not hastily drawn, and live and breathe as though plucked off the very streets of New York City. The situations presented are ridiculous in their way, but compelling and funny. And of course, the story of the little guy's fight against the big guy is appealing to every child, and to most adults.

"Don't be a truck." Take a few hours and allow yourself to be drawn into "The Pushcart War." I don't know if you'll treasure it the way I have come to, but I'm sure you'll find it a rewarding experience. This story of crackpots and campaigns, of trucks and tacks, of politics and pea-shooters and pushcarts, is a charming, light-hearted story which never lets the message overshadow the telling of the tale. This is a story children and adults can read and both will get something special from it. I truly hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Profile Image for The Dusty Jacket.
287 reviews26 followers
September 14, 2022
Imagine if Morris the Florist hadn’t been blocking the curb and if Mack hadn’t been in such a hurry to deliver his load of piano stools and if Marvin Seely hadn’t taken a picture with a camera that he had just gotten for his birthday and if Emily Wisser hadn’t cut out that same picture from the newspaper for her scrapbook and if Emily Wisser hadn’t shown that same clipping to her husband, Buddy Wisser, a newspaper editor…well, we might not ever have had the Pushcart War. Now, imagine THAT!

I read The Pushcart War in elementary school, so it had been out for a little over ten years by the time I laid my grubby little hands on it. I’m not sure what drew me to this particular book. Most likely it was the funny little drawing on the cover of a man in a black overcoat wearing a ridiculous flower hat who was right in the middle of shooting a pin at a big truck that caught my eye and imagination (ten-year-olds were much easier to amuse back then!). That book quickly became a long-lost memory until I came across it sitting innocently enough on a library shelf. I pulled it out and there he was! That same funny little man with his ridiculous hat STILL waging war against that massive truck some 40+ years later. After reading it with fresh eyes and a greater understanding of the world, I’m unclear why this book made such an impression on my ten-year-old self, but my much older self is chuckling while shaking my head after realizing that nothing much has changed since its publication.

The Pushcart War is packed with humor, hijinks, and heart. It is the quintessential David-versus-Goliath story of a pack of pushcart vendors who wage war against mighty mammoth trucks in hopes of maintaining their little slice of the free enterprise capitalist pie. Written in 1964, set in 2036, and taking place in 2026 (you got that?), Merrill’s story resonates just as true today as it did in the 60s: demonstrating the virtues and vices of speaking out for what is right; displaying the corruption of those in power who abuse their platform for personal gain by bowing to the desires of special interest groups; illustrating how the media can be a driving force behind shaping public opinion; and proving the unfortunate influence that money ultimately has on morality. Sound familiar? You might think that such weighty topics would never be able to hold the attention of a young reader, but Merrill’s Rube-Goldbergesque approach to storytelling—where one act sets off a series of complex events—keeps readers engaged and enthralled. I mean, who could have imagined that a simple tax on tacks could touch off a possible war with England? Jean Merrill, that’s who. It’s this kind of utterly improbable and highly outrageous scenario that keeps us entertained and cheering for the little guys…no matter how hopeless or hapless their situation may be.

Author Karen Traviss wrote, “I don't know who the good guys are anymore. But I do know what the enemy is. It's the compromise of principles. You lose the war when you lose your principles. And the first principle is to look out for your comrades.” Aside from their dried peas and little pea shooters, the people who sold hot dogs or flowers or knick-knacks from their little carts all shared a common purpose: a desire to be seen and to be counted and to be respected. They wanted a place in the world—free from bullying and intimidation and eradication. More than that, they didn’t want someone else to assign them value or worth. The pushcarts knew talking was better than fighting and believed in their cause so much that they were willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They knew that their cause was bigger than just one or two carts and together, they were a force to be reckoned with. Together, they could elicit change. I imagine that the world might be a better place if we just had a few more pushcarts.
Profile Image for zane deann.
206 reviews3 followers
September 27, 2018
Gloriously funny. A delightful, hilarious, sometimes silly story that has my heart. I already want to read it again.
Profile Image for Mary Herceg.
141 reviews
January 10, 2019
I was so excited to read The Pushcart War on the recommendation of a good friend with impeccable taste, and I couldn't help picking it up far sooner than I planned. Besides the great merit of my friend's recommendation, I knew I was going to love the book as soon as I peeked at the beginning. I was already grinning and laughing during the clever, tongue-in-cheek foreword and introduction. Both were, clever, hilarious, and utterly awesome, and the rest of the book was just as hilarious and amazing. As a bonus, my younger siblings loved the book when I gave it to them before reading it myself. My teenaged brother read it in a single evening and raved about it, spurring me to read it even sooner, and began reading it aloud to our elementary-aged youngest sister as soon as he had finished it himself.

Well, the book more than lived up to all that hype and expectation! I loved it even more than I'd hoped.

I laughed my way through the entire book, chuckling or guffawing out loud countless times. It's a hysterically funny book--and a wonderful, entertaining story. The clever wit, tongue-in-cheek satire, humor, and puns throughout had me laughing out loud every page or two. I love the framing device of the story that the author uses to explain her role in writing it--the pretend premise the author keeps from the beginning of the book. It's hilarious and so clever, but I won't spoil what it is.

It's also incredibly clever and intelligent, and I'm amazed at the author's masterful ability to fulfill the purpose of the book--to portray how wars work in a way anyone can understand. It kept blowing my mind as I read. I admire her ability to simplify the complex events of every war that's ever occurred, and portray them in a way that is incredibly simple and easy to understand--showing all of it by an incredibly funny and engaging story, and teaching important, valuable lessons in the process. I'm in awe. I definitely better understand how war works after reading this book, even as an adult and lover of history. I kept thinking about various aspects of World War II as I read, since the book mirrors it so well. The author must understand these things so well to be able to teach it in such an accessible way, and her wisdom shines clearly throughout the book.

I loved the characters so much, and heroes and villains alike were fabulously unique and well-developed. Each character was vivid and lifelike, and I enjoyed every single one. I adored each one of the pushcart peddlers and their allies--who were sweet, endearing, and spirited. I gladly cheered them on and rooted for them to win against the evil bad guys. And the antagonistic characters were each despicable to varying degrees, understandable, and well-rounded--never one-dimensional. They really demonstrated how figures of corrupt power work, with manipulation, lies, and brute force. Also, I really, really enjoyed the author's fabulous portrayal of wonderful female characters along with the very awesome male characters--the women had just as huge and strong and important and integral a role as the men, and the men actively showed respect and equality towards them, which is very nice to see. In addition, the children in the book are given an active, essential, and exciting role that young readers will delight in, even if most of the characters and important roles are adults.

In all, The Pushcart War was amazing, hilarious, fun, clever, witty, heartwarming, satirical, wise, exciting, intelligent, hysterically funny, and riotously entertaining. It became a new favorite of mine as soon as I read it, and I easily and immediately decided to give it five full stars without a bit of my usual hesitation and deliberation. I only wish I had known about it as a kid, but better late than never--and I'm glad my siblings can enjoy it at a young age, even if I couldn't.
Profile Image for Lori Hershberger.
Author 1 book7 followers
September 4, 2022
Utterly delightful. My teacher read this book to us in grade school and I loved it then, but it wasn't until I read it this time that I quite grasped the clever satire, the political allusions and the delicious humor. The characters are unforgettable: General Anna, a fearless old woman who stabs truck tires "by hand"; Mr. Jerusalem, Harry the Hot Dog, Frank the Flower, Maxie Hammerman. I do believe my next project will be creating a Frank the Flower hat. YOU REALLY NEED TO READ THIS BOOK IF YOU HAVE NOT YET.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,173 reviews422 followers
June 1, 2017
Hilarious, smart, scathing, charming. Reminds me of the best kinds of books I loved as a kid, but I would have missed so many of the layers as a kid. It was by no means too late to pick it up now. (Courtesy of a good friend of mine, who did love it as a kid.)
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,116 reviews186 followers
January 13, 2020
The first children's history of The Pushcart War - a fierce battle for control of the streets of New York City, waged between the city's pushcart peddlers and the trucking companies that want to put them out of business - this epic volume is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. The conflict all begins with the Daffodil Massacre, in which impatient trucker Albert P. Mack runs down peddler Morris the Florist on March 15th, 2026, destroying his cart and sending the man himself flying into a pickle barrel. Things only heat up from there, as the city's citizens, sick of the terrible traffic in their town, look for someone to hold responsible for the unending congestion, while the Big Three - owners of the city's three largest trucking companies - look for ways to make the pushcart peddlers the target of the public's ire, and to push them off the streets through brute force. The peddlers launch their own secret offensive, using pea-shooters to cause a massive number of flat tires and breakdowns, hoping to draw the public's attention to the real cause of the city's congestion. Inevitably, the conflict between peddlers and truckers eventually spills out into the public view, involving police, politicians, and everyday citizens - including children. In the end, despite being far fewer in number than their adversaries, the peddlers triumph in their effort to preserve their livelihood, and free the city from the tyranny of the truckers.

Originally published in 1964 and set in 1976, republished in 1974 and set in 1986, republished again in 1985 and set in 1996, and finally published in this 50th Anniversary Edition in 2014, and set in 2026, The Pushcart War is a delightful children's novel, one presented as if it were a history of a past event that occurred some years after the date of publication. Although this structure sounds rather convoluted, somehow the whole thing just works. I enjoyed everything about this book, from the overarching story, in which the little guy triumphs in the face of big business, in collusion with government, to the rich cast of quirky but lovable characters. General Anna, Mr. Jerusalem, Maxxie the Pushcart King! - they all come alive in Jean Merrill's story. I loved the New York setting, and found the social commentary both amusing and on point. I liked that the police were honest, and uncowed by the politicians, that the peddlers were concerned with defending their rights, but didn't want to trample on the rights of even their adversaries. Most of all, I just liked the wonderful sense of humor evident throughout the story, and also in the accompanying illustrations by Ronni Solbert. There are so many wonderful details here - both author and illustrator are credited with letters to the editor, in one part of the story - that all combine to create a wonderful book. Recommended to anyone looking for humorous children's stories that address issues of fairness in the public sphere, and the question of activism and standing up for what's right, even when one's opponent is powerful and influential.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,145 reviews114 followers
November 20, 2011
This is an utterly charming, satirical look at capitalism, corruption, and city life - a book I love not only because of the nostalgia factor (I first read it in fifth grade) but because it is good. The plot and pacing are strong, the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek and hilarious, and the characterization is spot-on. I will forever be a proponent of the Large Object Theory of History. Along with, I think, every library and elementary school classroom, and hopefully every home. The Pushcart War is that good.
Profile Image for Ejayen.
497 reviews7 followers
May 3, 2019
You know you have created great characters when one of them is in the book for literally three paragraphs and every fan just needs to know that you are talking about the book to make the immediate connection and go "Oh, she was great. I love her."
The book as a whole is a great introduction to fiction history, those lovely books that are completely made up but they sound so real.
I'm never visiting NYC in early July and I'll probably pass on visiting any parks no matter what.
Profile Image for Kressel Housman.
972 reviews224 followers
September 15, 2008
This is a hilarious, action-packed novel about how a group of small business owners (the pushcarts) take on their gigantic competitors (the trucks). It's a children's classic that adults will also love. So don't be a truck! Read this book. You'll have a great time.
Profile Image for Wendy Bousfield.
108 reviews9 followers
December 30, 2014
This deliciously droll YA book (1964) tells the mock-heroic story of a battle between pushcart owners and physically/politically/economically powerful trucking companies in a near-future (1976) dystopian New York City. In the present of the novel, gigantic trucks have become so numerous, and their drivers such bullies, that traffic has come to a virtual standstill. Not content with intimidating smaller vehicles, the evil CEO’s of the trucking companies (“The Three”) plot to eliminate pushcarts, cars, and taxis altogether. On “the afternoon of March 15, 1976, the trucks begin their war against the pushcarts.” (Part of the novel’s fun is its pedantic precision about dates.) Truck driver Albert P. Mac, deliberately rams Morris the Florist, smashing his pushcart and knocking him into a pickle barrel.

Led by the Pushcart King, Maxie Hammerman, the pushcart vendors plan an attack on the trucks. Harry the Hot Dog, Old Anna (“Apples and Pears”), Carlos (“cartons flattened and removed”) and other vendors decide to “kill” the trucks’ tires with pea shooters. Translating for Spanish-speaking Carlos, Maxie stipulates that the vendors must shoot tires rather than drivers: “’Carlos says we will not, of course, shoot at the truck drivers. What we will shoot at is the truck tires. He says we will kill the truck tires’” (54). The nicknames of the colorful eccentrics on both sides of the war, as well as their deadpan, mannered speech, pay, of course, deliberate homage to Damon Runyan.

Eventually, police catch Frank-the-Flower shooting a tire and imprison him. To protect his colleagues, Frank claims responsibility for “killing” all 18,991 tires, claiming to be “a crackpot.” Though the rest of the pushcart vendors cannot attack truck tires without exposing Frank’s lie, children take over the war, enthusiastically killing truck tires their own pea shooters. The pushcart vendors become folk heroes, and Frank-the-Flower Clubs spring up. The Pushcart War generates slang: “The expression, ‘Don’t be a truck’ replaced. . . such earlier slang as ‘Don’t be a dope, a jerk, a square.’ . . . . ‘You’re a crackpot.’ As an expression of affection . . . [meant] ‘You’re a good guy, a prince, a buddy, a doll, a sweetheart.” The use of this expression undoubtedly inspired the popular polka tune of the period, “Be My Little Crackpot’“ (93).”

Jean Merrill, clearly, delights in language play. The implied author anchors her hilarious, fantastic story in reality by frequent references to the exhaustive scholarship the Pushcar War generated. This brief novel begins with BOTH a “Foreword” and an “Introduction.” In a mock-scholarly “Foreword,” Professor Lyman Cumberly, author of The Large Object Theory of History, makes trivial corrections to the book we are reading. Cumberly’s “”Forword” is followed by an “Introduction” by Jean Merrill (actual author), claiming to have rewritten for children Cumberly’s account of the Pushcart War. The novel includes footnotes that niggle about details, as well as references to archives and other resources that Cumberly and Merrill consulted (“The conversation, as recorded in the files of the New York City Police Department . . . 117.) All the incongruous scholarly pomposity is great fun!

I had not heard of Jean Merrill until a friend loaned me a copy of THE PUSHCART WAR. I am delighted that it is still in print, as well a Merrill’s THE TOOTHPASTE MILLIONAIRE. I heartily recommend PUSHCART WAR to children and adults.
Profile Image for Penny Peck.
503 reviews18 followers
September 4, 2012
When I read Jean Merrill’s obituary a few weeks ago, I immediately knew the title The Pushcart War even though I had never read it. The book was often requested by 3rd and 4th grade teachers to use as a classroom readaloud, and it was part of the curriculum in some of the local elementary schools. So I checked it out of the library to read it for myself.
After nearly 50 years in publication, The Pushcart War still resonates. It is an allegory about war, and set in New York City, about a fictional “war” that occurred in 1986. Once the reader accepts that this is an “old” book about a fictional war in the future (sort of like Orwell’s 1984), it is easy to follow the story. The pen sketches that decorate the chapters add interest – I wish more novels for tweens featured illustration, the way the books of Roald Dahl always have. In writing style, this reminded me of Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth (which has great cartoon artwork by Jules Feiffer); it is told as a news report with elements of a fable, which gives it an engaging quality.
The plot concerns an historic war between pushcart operators and the truck drivers who blocked the streets, making it difficult for pushcarts to sell their wares. A reader doesn’t have to know what New York City is like – a similar scene could take place in San Francisco’s Chinatown or other urban area. The story has humor, and surprisingly, no child as a major character. It is the rare children’s book that features all adults as the regular characters.
One chapter concerns a small group of unnamed children who participate in the war, shooting pins at truck tires to sabotage them. It is a little like the U.S. Civil Rights movement, when children marched and participated in boycotts.
It is also a story of the small worker against “big business,” which should make a certain political party angry. Recently, the film “The Muppets,” released in 2011, drew the ire of some right wingers who felt the plot was “anti-business;” the Muppets battle a big oil tycoon (named Richman) for ownership of the Muppet Theater. The Pushcart War could draw the same criticism for those who don’t grasp the point of the book. Or maybe by a few super-rich who do get the point – that the little guy should have a chance to do business as much as “big business.”
It is a great novel for the reader to experience allegory and symbolism, because it is funny, so it doesn’t come across as heavy-handed. And in many ways, it is very timely. Young people who have seen parents and neighbors participate in the Occupy movement will certainly relate to this story.
111 reviews3 followers
February 11, 2008
Well, every male that saw me reading this book (okay, so just my husband and the guy at Coffee Tree...) kept on saying how it was their favorite book when they were in first grade. I think that is a bit ambitios about the reading level; I would put it at grades 2-4, but I can see the attraction. It's a "war" in NYC between the pushcarts and the truckers. The big weapon is a pea-shooter. I always feel like I have a more difficult time recommending books for boys (being that I never was one!)... this is definitely a good one to pass along to younger boys looking for a chapter book. A little challenging to read, but not overly so, it has a war but no real violence, certainly no concepts over the head of a 7 year old. Thanks to Megan for giving it to me to read!
Profile Image for Angie Thompson.
Author 29 books1,075 followers
May 3, 2019
Well, alrighty then... That was certainly an original and more-than-usually zany concept! For some reason, I didn't find it quite as funny as I expected--maybe I just didn't fully connect with the style. The concept itself was certainly interesting, and the execution was unique; I just had a hard time feeling fully invested. Although I did laugh out loud at a few places. I'm am a bit curious how much of the satiric humor a child would pick up on vs. how much would go over their head.

3.5 stars

Content--destruction of property, laws broken, etc.; mentions of gambling
Profile Image for Sarah.
673 reviews
August 2, 2013
Loved this book. I read it long ago, and I think I may like it even more now. Loved the syntax (like reading a book version of Guys and Dolls). I also enjoyed how the story was told, like an anthropology study. My favorite part was the epilogue.

All my friends should read this. Rachel, I think you would like this.

The power to the people feel is appealing. This is a good accompaniment to the revolutionary zeal of Les Miserables.
Profile Image for Natalie.
46 reviews9 followers
June 29, 2015
I was shocked to discover that one of my sister's all-time favorite books was one that I had never heard of! So I just sat myself down, ate it up, and was completely charmed. If there was any justice in the world, Cantaloupe Day would be a much bigger deal than Bloomsday.
Profile Image for Noa Seidmann.
383 reviews12 followers
August 5, 2019
נקרא בעברית מלחמת הדוכנועים.
זה היה אחד הספרים האהובים עלי ביותר כשהייתי ילדה. במרכזו מלחמה בין נהגי משאיות לבין בעלי דוכנועים בניו יורק.
הספר מצחיק מאוד והאיורים של דודו גבע אהובים עלי ביותר. זה ספר שמדבר על פוליטיקה ברמה שילדים יכולים להבין.
45 reviews10 followers
January 2, 2015
Exceedingly clever and entertaining! I can't believe I missed this one when I was a kid, and I can't wait until my own kids are old enough for it.

Things I liked:
- Portrayal of government and big business colluding to disfavor small business
- Immigrant and small business voices
- 'Documentary-style' storytelling from multiple angles

Things I didn't like:
- There were quite a few plot holes, of the type where people think they have only one option but are ignoring multiple other options that might have better or easier results
- Came across as a bit anti-capitalist because of the behavior of the large business leaders
Profile Image for Ms. B.
2,908 reviews35 followers
August 18, 2014
Published in 1964, but set in 1976, and written in 1986 (according to the author's note), this is a farce about a war between the pushcart drivers and the big truck drivers in New York City. If the book was written today, envision it being the food trucks vs the semis.
I thought this book started a little slow. I thought there were too many characters. Yet the more I read, the more I started to enjoy this. It simply got funnier and funnier. And by page 100, I knew the characters.
A good book for a Book Club or Lit Circle and/or those who like satire.
Profile Image for Alicia Perrin.
99 reviews11 followers
April 27, 2023
Listened to the audiobook with the kids. At the beginning, I thought “not sure we’ll make it through this one.” The story developed slowly, in almost documentary form. But the kids ADORED IT, and laughed a lot. “Don’t be a truck” is a new inside joke in our family.
Profile Image for Peter Landau.
898 reviews55 followers
November 7, 2022
Yes, it’s a children’s book, but it belongs among the trilogy of great portraits of the woebegone lost days of a great city with Lowlife by Lucy Sante and This Is New York by Miroslav Šašek.
27 reviews1 follower
November 20, 2009
This fabulous book is the story of the struggle of the pushcart vendors of New York City as they launch a war to retain their rights to exist among the ever-increasingly crowded and competitive streets of their city. The pushcart vendors have to compete against taxis, cars and pedestrians for space, but what they really have to worry about are the trucks. The trucks are getting bigger over time, and their operators are getting greedier for a larger slice of the increasingly scarce commodity of space on the streets. History is replete with stories of war over scarce commodities, and between the dominant and the dominated, and that is exactly what The Pushcart War is - the “historical” account of a particular war between the haves and the have-nots (as all wars are, arguably, about).

This book begins with a Foreword by “Professor Lyman Cumberly of N.Y.U, author of The Large Object Theory of History,” and an Introduction by the author, referencing the importance of examining this war from an historical perspective, and thanking the characters (presumed real here) for their assistance in compiling this account. This is a clever and ingenious method by Merrill with which to write about a fictional war, while at the same time underscoring the thought that all wars are waged over this idea of power. This book was originally published in 1964, and is “written” in 1986, ten years after the “war” so that the author is able to tell the story with the benefit of hindsight as to what occurred and why. (I found it particularly disturbing to learn that later editions have updated these dates, presuming, I suppose, that children would not “get” it otherwise. I think this is a ridiculous and offensive idea for many reasons, which I won’t go into here.)

The story is thoroughly well-written, captivating, and, not least, replete with fabulous illustrations that allow the reader to more fully enter the world of the already well-developed characters and setting. This is a book that most children will enjoy based on the engaging story as presented alone; for some it will also serve as a springboard for reflection about the concepts of justice, power, and war. Because this is a war story without vivid depiction of the atrocities of real war, this is an excellent choice from which to examine the concepts without being overwhelmed by the horrors.

On a more personal note, I've been reading this books every few years since the mid-1970s, and it has never lost its charm for me, while it also has continued to gain in importance for me over the years. If I had a shortlist of "must-reads," this one would be on it. (Ages 8-108)
Profile Image for Laura Cayouette.
Author 11 books13 followers
November 2, 2018
The escalating street battle between the pushcart peddlers and the truckers in New York. A David and Goliath story for kids more interested in the battles they see around them than the ones with giants. One of my favorites from my youth.
Profile Image for Colleen.
374 reviews18 followers
February 18, 2016
Whhhaaattt? How did I miss this book growing up? Was I too busy reading my Nancy Drew mysteries? I would have loved this book as a child. I loved this book as an adult. And that's why I put it on both my "absolute best books I have ever read" shelf and my "absolute best kids books I have ever read" shelf. Even though it doesn't "star" any children, the theme is a universal one--the little guy up against the big guy. Kids will get it from a bullying perspective; adults will get it from a David vs. Goliath perspective, both of which permeate our lives continually. In this story, the mammoth trucks bully the pushcarts. They believe the pushcarts are in the way of their deliveries so they smash them. If they thought the pushcart peddlers were going to take this...oh no! They devise a weapon (so awesome, but I won't spoil it for you) to disable the trucks. One step forward, two steps back, for both sides. The mammoth trucks create a blockade so the pushcart peddlers can't get the materials for their secret weapon. So the children take over with their own secret weapon. One step forward, two steps back. The mammoth trucks get the mayor on their side. The pushcarts get the entire city on their side. One step forward, two steps back. The book is also full of unanticipated consequences, for traffic, education, government, and so much more. The whole situation is absurd and hilarious, and adults and kids will see so much of the same absurdity in our lives today. The story is written in a very unique way, as if it's an analysis of an ACTUAL event in our past (complete with an introduction by a New York University professor). But it's not like some dry history textbook or lesson. It's as if you're a fly on the wall, watching the actions and reactions of both sides. The characters are colorful, the setting is vivid (if you're familiar with New York City, you'll totally get this), the entire story is funny as hell. I loved it so much, as soon as I was finished, I ordered a hardbound copy for my personal library. I'm going to study it until I'm qualified to teach a college course on the Great Pushcart War!
Profile Image for Susan.
92 reviews6 followers
February 12, 2013
Current bedtime read with Kristen.

It had been so long since I read this that I thought it was a short picture book! I'd completely forgotten that it's a fairly lengthy chapter book. Silly me.

UPDATE: This left me feeling much flatter than I thought it would. I had such a strong recollection of enjoying this as a kid, and yet I'm sitting here now scratching my head, wondering whether I've changed so much, or whether there is an abridged version that was actually what I read as a child. It just doesn't match the recollection. Very repetitive, not as much humor as I thought there would be, and it kind of dragged on and on.

Am I the only person who HATES it when an author feels compelled to write out each character's full name each time s/he is referenced? Frank the Flower, Maxie Hammerman, General Anna... could they never just be Frank, Maxie and Anna? No, each time the full name is there. Bugged the heck out of me.

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