"The question I am most often asked,"Jean Fritz says, "is how do I find my ideas? The answer is: I don't. Ideas find me. A character in history will suddenly step right out of the past and demand a book. Generally people don't bother to speak to me unless there's a good chance that I'll take them on."

Throughout almost four decades of writing about history, Jean Fritz has taken on plenty of people, starting with George Washington in The Cabin Faced West (1958). Since then, her refreshingly informal historical biographies for children have been widely acclaimed as "unconventional," "good-humored," "witty," "irrepressible," and "extraordinary."

In her role as biographer, Jean Fritz attempts to uncover the adventures and personalities behind each character she researches. "Once my character and I have reached an understanding," she explains, "then I begin the detective work--reading old books, old letters, old newspapers, and visiting the places where my subject lived. Often I turn up surprises and of course I pass these on."

It is her penchant for making distant historical figures seem real that brings the characters to life and makes the biographies entertaining, informative, and filled with natural child appeal.

An original and lively thinker, as well as an inspiration to children and adults, Jean Fritz is undeniably a master of her craft. She was awarded the Regina Medal by the Catholic Library Association, presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award by the American Library Association for her "substantial and lasting contribution to children's literature," and honored with the Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature, which was presented by the New York State Library Association for her body of work.

From the Penguin-Putnam Young Readers Catalogue

Considering the Craft:

Looking at Fritz's Literary Approach

JeanFritz demonstrated that biographies for children could be authentic as well as lively and readable. She achieves this authenticity in part with carefully selected quotes from the subject's contemporaries.

Select and read any of Fritz's biographies, then answer these two questions:

How is her work lively?

How is it readable?

Then consider the following quotations from Fritz...

I know that in the end the books will assume the shape of a story, not because it has been forced or coaxed into that, but because the story is already there.

Every person is a story.

The historian Peter Gray once said that biography is part of a writer's autobiography, and I believe that.... The real incentive for the writer comes from the drive not only to know but to incorporate another time into oneself -- to penetrate that time and that person's psychology in such a way that it will be forever a part of his or her total response to life.

When my daughter read my book about Pocahontas she said she could see that my childhood in China had participated in the writing.

Now, read Fritz's (1984) autobiography Homesick : My Own Story to see if you, too, can see Fritz's childhood in her 1987 The Double Life of Pocahontas . And, consider whether Fritz portrays those times in a way that lets us as readers penetrate the psychological make-up of Pocahontas and the people with whom she interacted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Fritz's Acceptance Speech. Find...

Fritz, J. (1986). There once was. Horn Book Magazine, 62, 432-35.

 

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