Homesick, My Own Story

Jean Fritz –  part 1 in a series on TCK children’s authors
I am excited to begin a series here on this blog about children’s authors who are third culture kids. I have yet to find a list out there (anyone know of one?) but I am starting my own list. Here is what I have so far (a work in progress – please let me know if you know of any others I need to add to this list below):
Pearl Buck – TCK from China

Jean Fritz – TCK from China

Meindert DeJong – TCK from Netherlands

Rumer Godden – TCK from China

Rudyard Kipling – TCK from India

Jean Little – TCK from Taiwan

Anne Sibley O’Brien – TCK from Korea

Katherine Patterson – TCK from China

Mitali Perkins – TCK who spent much of her childhood overseas in Bangladesh, India, England, Thailand, Mexico, Cameroon, and Ghana.   (I did write a blog post about Mitali Perkins “Tiger Boy” – check it out – she’s an amazing writer)

Missing anyone? Let me know…
In this first post in my series of TCK children’s authors, I would like to highlight Jean Fritz.

She is an American children’s writer best known for American biography and history as I mentioned above. She won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her career contribution to American children’s literature in 1986. She turned 100 in November 2015.
If you homeschool or love history, you will definitely be familiar with Jean Fritz’s history books for children. Who has not heard of these famous books?

  •  And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?
  • Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt
  • Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?
  •  George Washington’s Breakfast
  •  Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln
  •  Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution
  • What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?
  • Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus?
  • Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?
  •  Who’s That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?
  • Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?
  • Why Not Lafayette?
  • You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?

In addition to these shorter works for younger children, she has also written chapter books about famous Americans in history including:

  •  The Double Life of Pocahontas
  • Around the world in a hundred years (a book about early explorers)
  • The Great Little Madison
  • Stonewall

Jean Guttery Fritz was born November 16, 1915 in China where she lived until 1927.  When she was 12, she returned to the US and settled in Virginia.


Her book Homesick, My Own Story is the focus of this post. It was published in 1982 . It is a Newbery Honor book, winner of the American Book Award and winner of the Christopher Award. This chapter book with illustrations and drawings by Margot Tomes, is geared from 8 to 12 year olds, although I have loved it as an adult, and I think teens would enjoy it as well, especially TCKs. There is a section at the back of the book with photographs of herself and her family, many of them in China, which brings her story to life.

Although she tells the story of her childhood in China and her subsequent years as she settles in the US and adjusts to life there, she admits in the preface that her memories of her childhood come out in lumps, often not sequential, so she weaves the story together with fictional bits. She says that she would have to consider this a work of fiction, but that “it does not feel like fiction to me. It is my story, told as truly as I can tell it.”.   



I have read this several times and each time I read it, I glean new insights about being a TCK and the joys and struggles that come with it: the loneliness, struggles at school, that sense of living between two worlds and longing to belong, that sense of loss at leaving one country to go to another.
My favorite section of this biography of her life, is when she is on the boat leaving China at the age of 12 – although she is excited about seeing the US and her grandparents and extended family for the first time, she feels as if she was in an in-between state – not in China, not in America – she describes it like this in Homesick My Own Story:

 

“It seemed to me that once we were completely out of sight of land, I would really feel homeward bound. But as I looked at the Shanghai skyline and at the busy waterfront, I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t moving away at all. Instead the land was slowly moving away and leaving me. Not just Shanghai but China itself…. I could even smell China, and it was the smell of food cooking, of steam rising from many rice bowls it hung in a mist over the land. But it was slipping away. No matter how hard I squinted, it was fading from sight.”


That “in-between” state that we all can relate to as TCKs – it seeps into you and never leaves you: never fully belonging, always longing for a place that feels 100% like home, knowing it will never come to be on this side of eternity.

Jean is not shy about giving you the whole picture of her childhood, the good along with the bad, the happy times as well as the sad times. Life was not easy for Jean. She was ostracized by the Chinese who call her a “foreign devil”. She didn’t fit in in the British school she attended. Her family faced war and violence, separation and anxiety, grief and loss, depression and loneliness. It’s all there, but the overall tone of the book is not negative. As a girl, faced with these difficulties, she learned to cope, she found those places inside herself to escape to, she had supportive parents and a Chinese nanny who herself struggled from being ostracized by her family. Jean is an example of one who takes what life offers, drank the bitter cups and decided to focus on the beautiful and the good she saw around her, like the wild flowers and the mountains, books, her cat, her relationships with family both far and near. Jean also learned to except herself, her weaknesses and hone in on her strength.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially to TCKs. I would love (and often do) throw it in to the boxes I mail out to family overseas. 

Fun Facts about Jean Fritz’s life :

  • She was born in Wuhan, China and lived there until she was 13. She still misses China. She has visited China three times as an adult. She can speak Mandarin, but did not learn to write the traditional Chinese characters.
  • She is an only child. When she was 11, her mother gave birth to a little girl, they called her Miriam but she was born premature and only lived a few weeks. She was often lonely. She loved to write and writing became her way of processing all her experiences and emotions.
  • Her interest in American history started as a child, when her father shared stories and tales of American heroes from the past. She says traces her love of history to her need for roots. As a child, she often felt disconnected. US history gave her a sense belonging.
  • She said she did not enjoy history as a child, but as an adult, she was fascinated by the different people who lived throughout history. She says:  “Sometimes it seems as if a person from long ago steps out from a page and speaks to me. Then I know I have to write another book.” 


  • She announced that she was going to be a writer when she grew up when she was 5 years old.
  • As a child, she read Peter Pan by Baum, The Secret Garden by Burnett and  Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Just so Stories was her favorite. One of her current favorite books is The Lemming Condition by Alan Arkin
  • Out of all her books (and she has written well over 50 books) she is most proud of Homesick, My Own Story because it is the story of her own childhood. Homesick, My Own Story is also her best seller. The title Homesick has a double meaning: yes, she was homesick for America when she was in China, but after returning to the US, she realized she was then homesick for China.
  • When asked if any of her great-great grand-children were to write a book about her, what would they title the book, she replied: “I think my children and I feel I’ve never quite grown up, so maybe something like She Never Grew Up.”
  • In China, she attended a British school. There she had to sing “God Save the King!” every morning. She did not want to do it. Even though she had never been to America, she felt that singing that song would be traitorous.  Fortunately, her wise father pointed out that the American song, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” had the same tune, so she quietly sang that instead.
  • One of the things she hated the most when she first attended public school in Virginia was having to learn cursive writing.
  • She loves rivers and oceans. When she was in China, she loved the Yangtse River and now she lives in New York beside the Hudson River. She also loves the ocean and vacationed for many years in Virgin Cordo, an island in the Carribean Sea. When she was younger, she loved to swim and snorkel. She still loves to go to the beach and just enjoy the beauty, sounds and smells of the sea. (A woman after my own heart! “A kindred spirit” as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables would say)
  • Of course, she also loves reading. She reads all sorts of books, not just history.
  • In 1983, she went back to her hometown in China and found her house, where she and her parents lived. She visited a school and showed the children a photograph album the children of Dobbs Ferry, NY made to show what their life is like.
  • Her favorite character from history?  She is crazy about LaFayette. She wrote a book about him called “Why Not LaFayette?“. She loves the fact that he was devoted to democracy. He was a very principled man. She is saddened by the fact that he is not studied in school that much any more.
  • She attended Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois.
  • She married Michael Fritz in 1941. She has two children, David and Andrea.
  •      Her birthday is November 16th 1915. She turns 101 in a few months.

Quotes from Jean Fritz:

When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.” ― Jean Fritz

Only when a book is written out of passion is there much hope of its being read with passion.” ― Jean Fritz

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