Jean Merrill, the children’s author best known for her 1964 title The Pushcart War, died from cancer on August 2 at her home in Randolph, Vt. She was 87.
Merrill was born January 27, 1923 in Rochester, N.Y. and grew up on her parents’ dairy farm in nearby Webster. She said in an interview that she preferred to spend most of her time outdoors as a child, “building huts, dams, rafts, forts, making barrel-stave skis, inner-tube guns, roller-skate scooters, bows and arrows, collecting wild flowers and fossil rocks, swimming, tobogganing, climbing silos, riding hay wagons, tumbling in haylofts.” She noted that writing for children may have been inspired by “the great impact certain books had on me as a child, and perhaps a wish to recreate the quality of that experience.”
Merrill graduated from Allegheny College in 1944 with a B.A. and earned an M.A. from Wellesley College in 1945. Soon after she began work as an assistant feature editor at Scholastic Magazine. In 1952, Merrill won a Fulbright research grant to the University of Madras in India where she studied folklore. During the mid-1950s she worked as an editor at the Bank Street College of Education’s publications division.
In 1951 Merrill published her first book, Henry and the Hand-Painted Mouse. Her books often embraced multicultural themes and featured underdog characters winning out. The Pushcart War is the tale of street vendors in New York City who retaliate against the powerful corporate truckers who want to take over their turf. Another of her popular titles, The Toothpaste Millionaire, about a boy who turns his homemade toothpaste into a thriving business, was adapted as an ABC-TV Afternoon Special in 1974. Merrill wrote more than 30 books for young people during her career.