Jean Fritz Biography

Jean Fritz brings history to life. No other author has made such an enormous impact on children’s historical literature. By her own admission, she knew her career path at the age of five, yet her writing did not really take off until she was in her mid-thirties. Since then, Fritz has authored books about virtually every American historical subject imaginable. Her writing process is one of careful research and rewriting, and she eschews the label “historical fiction” due to the careful construction of her books. Whether recounting the treachery of Benedict Arnold or the nobility of President James Madison, Fritz captures the essence of the period and makes historical figures memorable for her young readers.

Facts and Trivia

  • Fritz spent the first thirteen years of her life growing up in China. She credits her solitary life there with her love for reading and writing.
  • Though she mostly writes historical works, early in her career Fritz experimented with fantasy works. She has also written a memoir about her childhood, titled Homesick: My Own Story.
  • Because of the historical nature of her books, Fritz spends nearly a year researching and writing each one, often visiting the locations that will appear in her stories.
  • History is not just a creative passion of Fritz’s: it’s also a personal one. Her ancestors once dined with President Washington.
  • Though Fritz is fluent in Chinese, she cannot write it.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

Jean Guttery Fritz, the only child of American missionaries, was born on November 16, 1915, in Hankow, China. The family lived in China until the mid- 1920s, when revolution made it too dangerous for foreigners to remain. Fritz kept a childhood journal in which she copied her favorite passages from...

(The entire section contains 485 words.)

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Jean Guttery Fritz, the only child of American missionaries, was born on November 16, 1915, in Hankow, China. The family lived in China until the mid- 1920s, when revolution made it too dangerous for foreigners to remain. Fritz kept a childhood journal in which she copied her favorite passages from books and poems and recorded her thoughts about life in China. This journal became an important source for Homesick, the autobiographical story of her years in China.

Fritz decided early in life to pursue a writing career. She studied English literature at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. After graduation, hoping to find an outlet for her writing skills, she enrolled in an advertising course at Columbia University in New York City. But she disliked the advertising business because it seemed dishonest, and in 1939 she went to work for the Silver Burdett Company, textbook publishers.

Her career in publishing ended in 1941, when she married Michael Fritz and moved with him to San Francisco, where he had been recalled to military service after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. She gave birth to a son in 1943 and a daughter in 1947, wrote book reviews and teacher's manuals, and served as a ghostwriter. In 1953 the family moved to Dobbs Ferry, New York, and Fritz volunteered to work in the public library. She established a children's department and traded her volunteer job for a paid library position.

In the mid-1950s Fritz began to write stories and picture books for young children, focusing on her own experiences and those of her children. As she gained confidence in her ability to write for children, she began to draw upon her interest in historical fiction and biography. She based her first long piece of historical fiction, The Cabin Faced West, on a family anecdote about her grandmother's grandmother; she focused on a nineteenth-century boy's decision between a whaling career and a college education in I, Adam; and she portrayed a young boy forced to choose sides in the American Revolution in Early Thunder. Fritz spent seven years collecting material for her adult history, Cast for a Revolution: Some American Friends and Enemies, 1728-1814(1972). The bizarre and amusing anecdotes she uncovered in the course of this research became the basis for a series of award-winning, popular biographies for young children written in celebration of the U.S. bicentennial, including And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (1973), Why Don't you Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (1974), and What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (1976).

Fritz explains her interest in U.S. history as a "subconscious desire to find roots," a desire that first surfaced when, as a child living in China, she would hear American adults talking about home. Homesick, her tale of this childhood and the multi-faceted concept of "home" that it fostered, won both the American Book Award and the Christopher Award in 1983, and was named a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book and a Newbery Honor Book.

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