Jean Fritz, author of biographies and historical children’s books, dies at 101

Jean Fritz, author of nearly 50 children’s books, most of which are fast-paced and vividly written historical and biographical works, died on May 14 at a nursing home in Sleepy Hollow, NY. She was 101 years old.

The cause was complications from pneumonia, said her son, David Fritz.

Ms. Fritz began her literary career by writing conventional fiction “picture books” for children, but turned to history when she realized that “the facts were more exciting to me than my own. stories ”.

Part of his inspiration for exploring American history came from his childhood, which was spent in China, where his parents were missionaries.

“I was American, but I didn’t feel like an American,” she told The Times in 2003. It didn’t help that a British bully at the school she attended often taunted her. about the country she barely knew.

“Every day at recess,” Ms. Fritz said in 1990, “this boy came to me and said, ‘George Washington is a stinker.’ So I had to fight. I was the only one to defend my country.

In 1958, she wrote her first historical book, “The Cabin Faced West”, based on a family story about her great-great-grandmother, who met George Washington on horseback in a remote part of western Canada. Pennsylvania and invited him to join his family. for the dinner.

Ms Fritz embarked on a series of books on the heroes of the War of Independence, followed by others on explorers, presidents and women of historic significance, including suffrage advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. His books have been illustrated by various artists, including Tomie de Paola and Margot Tomes.

Ms. Fritz carried out monumental research for her books, including visiting the places where her subjects had lived. All the dialogues in his books have been taken from the historical archives.

“At her best,” historian Elisabeth Griffith wrote in The Times in 1986, Ms. Fritz “is a skillful biographer and a gracious and entertaining writer.

Most of his books were intended for children 8-10 years old or more. She delves into the heart of the story, often starting with descriptions of childhood.

“Harriet Beecher had always understood that with her sisters, she was the second best in her family,” wrote Ms. Fritz in her 1994 book on Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

“On June 14, 1811, when she was born, her father complained to a neighbor: ‘I wish it was a boy!’ Of course, his father was disappointed. It was Lyman Beecher, a pastor in Litchfield, Connecticut, and he collected boys. He wanted a lot of Beecher preachers in the family.

When she was young, Ms. Fritz said in an interview in 1990, she had little interest in the story.

“I kept thinking when I was a kid that there was more than what I was told, more than dates and wars,” she said. “I wanted to get to know people.

Jean Guttery was born on November 16, 1915 in Hankow, China (now Hankou). Her parents often spoke nostalgically about the United States, which Ms. Fritz did not visit until she was 12.

“My interest in writing about American history,” she later wrote, “was originally born, I think, from an unconscious desire to find roots – I felt like a girl without a country. “

She grew up primarily in West Hartford, Connecticut, and began writing stories as a girl. She graduated in 1937 from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and then worked as a textbook researcher and studied children’s literature at Columbia University.

After her marriage in 1941, Ms. Fritz lived in San Francisco and Tacoma, Washington, and reviewed children’s books for local newspapers. In 1951, she and her family moved to Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she worked as a children’s librarian. She wrote her first children’s book in 1954.

Her husband, Michael Fritz, a laboratory director, died in 1995. Survivors include two children, David Fritz of West Milford, NJ, and Andrea Pfleger of Woodstock, NY; and two grandsons.

Ms. Fritz’s 1982 book “Homesick: My Own Story,” drawing on thoughts from her childhood, won an American Book Award for Children’s Fiction. She wrote another autobiographical volume, “Homecoming”, in 1985.

She has received numerous honors for her work, including a National Humanities Medal presented by President George W. Bush in 2003.

Among other topics, Ms. Fritz has written on the Constitution and historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Pocahontas, Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s mother, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

“The question I get asked most often is how do I find my ideas? Ms. Fritz wrote in a personal essay. ” The answer is no. Ideas find me. A character in the story will suddenly step out of the past and demand a book. “


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