Remembering Jean Merrill and The Pushcart War

When children’s book author, Jean Merrill, died recently, the world lost a champion of the underdog.  The author of over 30 children’s books, Merrill is best known for The Pushcart War – the New York City street peddlers against the big truck bullies.

When Morris the Florist gets pushed over by a big Mack truck, it’s the beginning of a confrontation that involves flattening truck tires with pea shooters under the supervision of Old General Anna and Maxie, the Pushcart King.  When the war escalates, with disabled trucks everywhere, Frank the Flower takes the blame for 20,000 flat tires and goes to jail.  Undaunted, the pushcart peddlers find unlikely allies in the children. When a peaceful demonstration and a foiled kidnapping threaten the vendors’ livelihood, the war seems lost.  Suddenly, the power of the word in the form of letters to the editor persuades the corrupt mayor to arbitrate a peace when public opinion turns against him.

If you have ever tried to negotiate between trucks parked on the street, you will appreciate the dilemma…

“… if there were no parking places, and a truck driver felt like having a cup of coffee, he simply stopped his truck in the middle of the street and left it there, blocking traffic for miles behind him.”

Although The Pushcart War was first published in 1964, Merrill’s humor underlining the political intrigue of three fictional big trucking firms trying to ban pushcarts from the streets of New York to make room for more trucks is still timely today.  Who doesn’t want to cheer for the little guy in danger of being run out of business by those mammoth corporations?

The food trucks are the newer version of the pushcart today, but some of the old-fashioned carts are still in business. Next time you visit New York City, look for one of the few remaining pushcarts; buy a coffee and piece of crumb cake – or maybe a pretzel.

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