Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Review: The Street of the Flower Boxes

Title: The Street of the Flower Boxes

Author: Peggy Mann

Illustrator: Peter Burchard

Publisher: Weekly Reader Book Club

ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon

Date: 1966

Length: 72 pages

Quote: “We got another problem...We got four dollars and seventy-one cents more than we need!”

The writer known as Peggy Mann understood the difference between a slum and a suburb; growing up in New York City, she said, she thought that houses were “for millionnaires and movie stars.” But her husband insisted on buying a house. Well, a row house anyway, still in a slum neighborhood where “rich people's fads” such as flowers were not welcome.

“Who plants flowers on this crumby street?” scoffed nine-year-old Carlos, who was too young to join the official gang but had put his creativity to use inventing wonderful slum games, such as Traffic Tieup, in which the kids tied all the parked cars on the block together with ropes and clotheslines. (In the morning this produced “such splendid honking and shouting that two squad cars of armed and helmeted policemen were sent.”) He invented a game where all the kids whipped each other with ivy out of the new neighbors' flower boxes. Then there was a game where they threw flower petals at each other. The adults “watched the boys and laughed along with them...Rich people...should have sense enough not to show off by moving right in among the poor!”

The new neighbors revised their strategy. They paid Carlos to be their “guard and gardener.” Carlos prudently used the money to buy candy to bribe the other kids not to destroy any more flowers.

The flowers flourished. Soon the lady who liked flowers had to thin her crop and give a few flowers to Carlos. When were they going to get flowers too? other kids asked Carlos. Before he knew it Carlos was taking orders for flowers. Not knowing the correct price, he promised his neighbors flowers at a price that represented a substantial loss for the new neighbors. When the new neighbors distributed the flowers, as promised, anyway, Carlos and the kids felt obliged to make up the deficit. So they organized a street bazaar.

The children's story ends there, but the story of the story didn't. Adults found the story of slum residents actively participating in their own little “renewal project” very inspiring. The Street of the Flower Boxes was made into a movie. The movie was shown to children in schools across America...and I remember checking out this thin, easy-reading book from the library because I'd seen the movie. By that time the Johnson family had stopped blathering about their Great Society and War on Poverty. By that time, in fact, former President Johnson was dead. But Carlos is still a character primary school readers can appreciate.

Everybody has a right to enjoy flowers at their windows. Green space, even. Private homes with gardens in between them. Nobody really needs to settle for living in a barren, dirty slum. People who reclaim their right to flowers today may, tomorrow, be ready to think about going back to the land.

Peggy Mann is no longer a living author, so The Street of the Flower Boxes is not a Fair Trade Book. To buy it here will still cost $5 per book + $5 per package for shipping. If you're interested in just this one book, you can get a better deal elsewhere. If you're interested in our Fair Trade Book program, you can slip this slim little volume into the package with at least two regular-size books and send money to one or more living writers. Payment may be sent to either address in the "Contact" box at the bottom of the screen.