Jean Fritz’s Life in China
Jean Fritz was born on November 16, 1915 and spent her first 13 years in China, where her parents were directors of the Hankow YMCA. She was an only child, and spent more time with storybook characters than with real people. She was a proud American who wanted more than anything to actually live in America.
She has told her own story in her fictionalized autobiography for children: Homesick: My Own Story, a Newbery Honor book. (Photo is from older edition.)It’s suitable for ages eight through adult, and is very appropriate for unit studies on China in the 1920’s.
Jean makes the Yangtse River come alive with its coolies hauling water, women washing clothes, swarming houseboats, and junks with eyes painted on their prows. She tells us how it felt to be a proud American (though one born in China) in a British school. She hated to sing “God Save the King” every day.
Fritz gives us her child’s eye perspective on the growing turmoil in China, especially in Hankow and Wuchang. The Chinese people became more and more suspicious of foreigners. Warlords, Nationalists and Communists vied with each other for power. Jean didn’t like being called a “foreign devil,” and several times the family had some very narrow escapes.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about either Jean Fritz or China. It would make an excellent book to read to the entire family, for there is much to discuss. Readers will learn about Chinese culture in the 1920’s, the tactics of Communists in taking over a country, how to fit into a new culture, and more.
Back to Life in America
Throughout her Chinese adventures, Jean never forgot that she was an American. She was very eager to return to her native land. Jean and her family returned to America in 1928, when Jean was 13.
She did not anticipate how difficult it would be to fit into American culture when she finally got home to her grandparents’ farm in Pennsylvania. She was shocked when American children asked her what it was like to eat a rat. And she took offense when her classmates referred to the Chinese as “chinks.”
Jean graduated from Wheaton College in 1937 and married Michael Fritz in 1941. They had two children, David and Andrea. She had lived in Hartford, Connecticut; New York City; on the West Coast during World War II; and finally in Dobb’s Ferry, New York by 1951.
She published her first book, Bunny Hopwell’s First Spring, in 1954. 121 Pudding Street, a work inspired by her own children, followed it in 1955.
Biographical and Historical Fiction Reviews
Although she wrote other types of books, Fritz most enjoyed bringing historical figures to life — especially those who lived during the time right before and just after the American Revolution. Her biographical fiction is laced with enough humor to make her stories fun to read.
I highly recommend Fritz’s biographical fiction. You can find it along with Jean’s other books on Amazon’s Jean Fritz page. Book covers pictured here may be from earlier than current editions. Click through to see current edition art work. These are affiliate links and I do get a small commission if you use them to make purchases. I have moved some longer reviews to separate blog posts to be published soon.
These ten true tales of 15th-century explorers bring history to life, with accounts of the exploits of Christopher Columbus, Bartholomew Diaz, Ponce de Leon, and others. Reading level 5.9. Interest level grades 6-8. 128 pages.
Most people have heard of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride, but not many people know much about Paul Revere before and after that ride. In this book Jean Fritz fills in the gaps in the fascinating life of this famous patriot . 48 pages. For ages 8-11.
Fiction. Brady has never been able to keep a secret. When he discovers an Underground Railroad station near his family’s farm, he realizes that someone’s life may depend on whether he will keep what he has found secret. Suddenly the whole slavery controversy has become personal. Reading level 5.6. Target age group, middle school. 224 pages.
Fritz was so interested in this legend of the Monk who sailed off to find Paradise and may or may not have discovered America before the Vikings, that she went to Ireland to research it. We’ll probably never know for sure whether St. Brendan found what we now know is America, but the story of his life and travels makes very interesting reading. 32 pages. For ages 8-11.
Lively fictional biography of Theodore Roosevelt, who hated being called Teddy.
See full summary and review in my blog post on this book. Interest level age seven and up. Independent reading level middle school and up.
Most American children know that America used to be a British colony before it won its independence, and we celebrate that independence every July 4. In this book, Jean Fritz shows how King George III of England felt about that and what he did to try to deal with what he considered a rebellious bunch of subjects. This is the story of the American Revolution from the British point of view. As in most of Fritz’s books you will find plenty of humor. 48 pages. For ages 8-11.
George Washington Allen was very proud of two things — his name and his birthday — both of which had also belonged to his hero, President George Washington . He read a lot about him and asked many questions.
One morning as he ate his breakfast, he wondered what the other George Washington had eaten for breakfast. No one knew, and after a search that led as far as Mt. Vernon, he still had not found out, even though his grandmother had promised to fix it for him if he did.
He was determined to keep searching until he found the answer, even after his grandmother assumed she’d be off the hook. Find out how his quest ended. Readers will also learn how people used to do research before the Internet existed. For ages 8-11.
The title for this book comes from the nickname given to Madison after the writing of the Constitution. He was a small man with a soft voice, yet his influence on the birth of our country was great. This book is as much about the formation of the new American government as it is about Madison, who helped write the Constitution. The story of how we got our Constitution also was made into a great movie — A More Perfect Union which I have seen and highly recommend for all ages middle school and above. But you meet all the characters in that movie in this book, and you will find yourself taking sides in the controversy and caring.
As I read this book, I quickly learned that politics divided people as much back then as it does now. The book has so much drama it reads like a novel. Some of Madison’s early friends later became his enemies and intrigue and betrayal were rife.
Although Madison had a soft voice, when he spoke people listened. He helped guide America through two wars, after having done everything possible to prevent the War of 1812. Like Abraham Lincoln who came after him, Madison used all his talents and energy to preserve the Union he loved.
This book should be read by every middle school class that studies American government or history, since it brings the birth of the country to life as no textbook can. It clarifies the issues that influenced the writers of the Constitution and why each part of it is there and worded the way it is. It explains how the founding fathers defined terms like democracy, nationalism, federalism, and states’ rights and why those words almost had convention delegates coming to blows with each other. I couldn’t put the book down. 159 pages. Reading level 7.7. For ages 10-14.
Pictures by Tomie dePaola. As we look back at our history, we are so used to being the United States of America that it’s hard to imagine a time when we weren’t. History books move pretty quickly from the Declaration of Independence to the Revolutionary War to the Constitutional Convention and the writing of the Constitution of the United States of America. But Jean Fritz tells us in this book, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.” Although the United States was a dream of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, there were many others, even Patrick Henry, who believed there should be no strong national government with any real power to impose its will on the many separate states, who, at the time, felt more like countries. This book tells the story of how we got from there to here. The text of the Constitution is at the back of the book, bringing the total pages to 64. For ages 8-11.
by Jean Fritz. Black and white drawings by Stephen Gammell. 152 pages and bibliography. No one who knew this man as a child or at West Point ever pictured him as a future hero, but the Civil War gave this man a chance to shine. It brought out his strengths and revealed him as one of the most brilliant and heroic military leaders in America. For upper elementary students and older.
Benedict Arnold was a reckless man, and when he joined the Army to fight the British, he became even more reckless. He had little respect for higher authority but loved to throw his own weight around.
He tried to bully Ethan Allen and take over his command of the Green Mountain boys when they were on their way to take over Fort Ticonderoga , but he met his equal in Ethan Allen, whose men refused to have anyone but Allen lead them in battle, whether Arnold waved official papers or not. Arnold wanted to always be the hero, even if it meant knocking someone else out of the way. Why would such a man desert to the British and betray his country? Find out in this book. 192 pages.Reading level 7.5. Target age 10 and up.
Fritz is known for being able to tell her stories in a lightly humorous vein, and this is especially true as she introduces Benjamin Franklin and his constant interest in trying out his new ideas. It is hard to find another man in American history who accomplished so much in so many different arenas — inventions, government, writing, statesmanship, printing, and more. He even founded the first circulating libraries and the postal system. What the author couldn’t fit into the story she put in footnotes on the book’s last page. 48 pages. For ages 8-11.
Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, near the sea, and he went sailing every chance he got. He wanted to learn all the secrets of the world. Most of all, he wanted to find a sea path to the Indies, since the land routes to the east had been closed by the Turks in 1453 when Columbus was only two. That meant people could not longer get the spices they craved.
In this book you will see all the adventures Columbus had in his explorations as he tried to reach his goal. He was a bit mixed up about having found a way to get to the Indies by sailing west, and until his dying day he believed he had found them. He never realized he had found one of the world’s unknown secrets instead — a whole new continent. 48 pages. For ages 8-11.
Patrick Henry was a boy who liked to be outdoors — not fidgeting in classrooms. When he grew up he became a lawyer because he enjoyed listening to arguments. Of course, lawyers also have to be able to argue themselves, and Patrick found that much harder. He wasn’t much of a speaker, and he often mumbled. But when the issue being debated was America’s freedom, Patrick suddenly found his tongue and was able to throw his voice far enough for all to hear. He became famous for his speeches, and is best known for the one he dramatically acted out, seeming to plunge a letter opener into his heart as he cried, “give me liberty or give me death!” 48 pages. For ages 8-11
Everyone knows that the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Right? Well, maybe. Jean Fritz uses this book to tell us the true story of the rock and its history since that day the Pilgrims came to what came to be Plymouth. 31 pages. For ages 8-11.
For ages 8-11. John Hancock is remembered by most for making his signature on the Declaration of Independence so large that the King of England would not need his spectacles to read it. But there’s a lot more to learn about John than that. As a boy he lived in Boston with his rich uncle, since his father had died. He took his rich life style for granted and always had what he needed. As a young man he was quite extravagant.
What he wanted more than anything else in life was for everyone to like him, so he often spent his money on others and gave gifts to his community. He loved to dress well, and some certainly must have considered him vain. He loved to be the center of attention.
His resistance to the king’s taxes made him an enemy of King George III, who put a price of 500 pounds on his head. He presided over the Continental Congress and was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Later he was elected the first governor of Massachusetts. He had hoped to command the American army during the War for Independence, but Washington was chosen over him. That was probably a good thing, since when he had to lead the Massachusetts Militia in a battle he was spectacularly unsuccessful. He probably wanted to be President, but Washington got that office, too, and he couldn’t even get nominated for Vice president. Still, in spite of his inclination toward vanity, he contributed greatly to the cause of American Independence, and was esteemed by many. 48 pages. For ages 8-11.