The Pushcart War

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Pushcart War Book Poster Image
Classic satire portrays absurd David vs. Goliath warfare.

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age 8+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Pushcart War's calculations about traffic (numbers of vehicles compared to density/travel times) teach readers some math, but its larger lesson is about the ways an "us vs. them" mentality leads to larger conflicts.

Positive Messages

The Pushcart War teaches that conflict resolution requires willingness and compromise from all parties.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Role models in The Pushcart War include the pushcart peddlers' intelligent, dedicated leader Maxie Hammerman; the brave General, Old Anna; and self-sacrificing Frank the Flower.

Violence

Truck drivers use their size and might to push their way through the streets; they crash into pushcarts, destroying property and hurting peddlers. There's no graphic description, but we know that at least one peddler suffers a head injury, and several are hospitalized. The owner of a warehouse pelts policemen with bags of dried peas to keep them from entering his business. The pushcart peddlers use pea-shooters and pins to fight back against the big trucks.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

The brands in the book (trucking companies and peddlers' small businesses) are all fictional.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jean Merrill's classic satire/political novel The Pushcart War, first published in 1964, uses a battle over space on New York City's streets as a metaphor for war. It's a relatively innocent, humorous look at the way adults, and countries, fight for territory and dominance, complete with government interference, David-and-Goliath weaponry, clandestine strategy meetings, and media influence. The book includes several violent acts, some more harmful than others; the most aggressive and frightening involves large trucks mowing down pushcart peddlers. No one dies, and there's no blood, but several people are injured. The seriocomic tale gives young readers a view of warfare's evils and complexities, and lessons about their world.

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Kid, 9 years old August 26, 2017

Book Review Of The Pushcart War

The Pushcart War is a fictional story written in 1964 by Jean Merrill, and illustrated by Ronni Solbert. It takes place in 2026 in New York City, when pushcarts... Continue reading

What's the story?

On the surface, Jean Merrill's classic satire THE PUSHCART WAR is a story about mighty truckers and gentle pushcart peddlers battling for territory on the streets of New York. Each side blames the other for the city's traffic problems and aims to push its rival off the road, whether by force or through the power of public opinion. The advantage shifts back and forth as the two sides fight and strategize. Peddlers land in the hospital, a trucker and a vendor land in jail, and then the media get involved. Just below the surface, the story offers a humorous, incisive look at the complexities of warfare.

Is it any good?

Jean Merrill's The Pushcart War couches an insightful view of conflict and war in a funny, charming story. Readers can't help but love and root for the sweet old-fashioned pushcart peddlers; Ronni Solbert's original black-and-white drawings emphasize the vendors' quaint unsuitability for "war." Simple and easy to read, the book offers a point of departure for thoughtful conversations about conflict resolution, politics, and the media.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether The Pushcart War -- first published in 1964 -- is still timely. What events of its era might it have been commenting on? If you were writing the 21st century version, would you change anything about the characters or the story?

  • How is The Pushcart War similar to or different from other books you've read featuring battles or warfare. What does it teach about fighting?

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  • What lesson do you think you're supposed to take away from The Pushcart War?

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