Jean Fritz and Her Works
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
told her own story in her autobiography for children: Homesick: My Own
Story. 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 lets us know how it
felt to be a proud American (though one born in China) in a British school,
forced to sing "God Save the King" every day. And she gives us her child's eye
perspective on the growing turmoil in China, especially in Hankow and Wuchang,
as the Chinese people became more and more suspicious of foreigners, and
warlords, Nationalists and Communists vied with each other for power. Being
called a "foreign devil" took some getting used to, and several times the family
had some very narrow escapes.
Throughout all her Chinese adventures, Jean never forgot that
she was an American, and she was very eager to return to her native land. What
she didn't expect was 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."
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. From Chinese culture to the
tactics of Communists in taking over a country, to how to fit into a new
culture, there is much to learn.
Jean and her family returned to America in 1928, when Jean was
13. When she wrote her first book, 121 Pudding Street, she had already graduated
from Wheaton College (1937), had married Michael Fritz in 1941, and was the
mother of two children, David and Andrea. She had lived in Hartford,
Connecticutt, New York City, on the West Coast during World War II, and had
finally wound up in Dobb's Ferry, New York by 1951. Although she wrote other
types of books, she 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.