“In my father’s study there was a large globe with all the countries of the world running around it”, beloved children’s author Jean Fritz writes in the opening lines of Homesick: My Own Story. “I was in China in city named Hankow, a dot on a crooked line that seemed to break the country right in two. The line was really the Yangtze river, but who would know by looking at a map what the Yangtze River really was?”

I love that line. “Who would know by looking at a map?” She’s right, of course. A map alone can’t tell us what’s in inside those dots and beside those lines. We need more — and Jean Fritz gives us more.

How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book

My love for maps borders on obsession (pun intended). Maps are part of me, as a third culture kid who lived in three countries and two continents by the age of eight. But life, of course, isn’t found in geography or topography or any other cartographical term. As Jean Fritz knew, life is hidden in the stories — in the buzzing, humming swirl of life happening under each dot on the map. And when we go back in time, maps change. The further we rewind time, the more we can see the delicate choreography of maps as borders shift, fluidly, pushed and pulled by the passage of time, by conflict, by wars, by revolutions, and — oh yes, — by individual people.

Where others see maps and facts and stacks of information, Jean Fritz (born in 1915) sees the woven thread of humanity connecting it all. She has a gift for sifting through history pulling out the human element. She sees the story, always. In her books, she dives deep into the past, filling in the blanks, figuring out the conversations which must have taken place, and telling us what might have been on the dinner plates back then, what pets might have wandered in and out of the homes, what motives pushed hearts along, and what could have tickled the funny bone of historical figures.

Her books always open my eyes, once again, to the fact that each upheaval in world history did not occur in a vacuum, separate from people, but in between and around the very real lives of men, women, and children who were flesh and blood like we are — people who slept, dreamt, woke up, ate breakfast, got frustrated, faced pain, experienced love, and so much more. Yes, timelines and dates are important in a study of history, but history remains flat unless we flesh it out with stories of real people, real lives, real loss and real triumph.

While Jean Fritz doesn’t downplay the rougher edges of certain historical events, she always manages to sensitively connect historical puzzle pieces with a light, lifting sense of humor. In “And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?” you’ll find yourself laughing out loud while reading lines like, “You would think that with all Paul Revere did, he would make mistakes. But he always remembered to put spouts on his teapots and handles on his cups. The false teeth that he whittled out of hippopotamus tusk looked just fine.” This reminds us of Paul Revere’s humanity, and reminds us historical figures were so more three-dimensional and dynamic than the austere unsmiling portraits of old would have us believe.

Not sure which of her books to choose? With background as a third culture kid, I have a personal fondness for her autobiographical novel Homesick: My Own Story, but you can use the list below to choose the Jean Fritz book which most closely matches up to where you are in your current history studies. She wrote more than fifty books, so this list of twenty-four isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great launching-off point to her wonderful archive of titles. (And it’s no surprise that this list also happens to coincide exactly with the Jean Fritz books on my own shelves.)

How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book for your Homeschooling Lessons

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Books About Third Culture Kids and Chinese History by Jean Fritz

Homesick: My Own Story


Perfect if you want to know more about…
• …the dynamics of life as a third culture kid, cross-cultural navigation, the melting pot of 1920s China, and China’s civil war, unrest, and move from imperial government to Communism.
When and Where?
• Hankow/Hankou, China and Pennsylvania, USA; 1925-27
Who?

• the author Jean Fritz as a 10- to 12-year-old girl
What Else?
• Novel-length autobiographical chapter book. 176 pages; illustrated with family photographs. For upper elementary and middle grades to adult. A personal favorite, as it so perfectly captures the emotions which go along with being a third culture kid.

China Homecoming


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…the story begun in Homesick, the idea of defining home as a third culture kid, how Fritz’ unique upbringing as a third culture kid continued to affect her as an adult, the evolution of China from the mid-1920s to the mid-1980s.
When and Where?
Hankow/Hankou, China and San Francisco, USA; 1982
Who?

• the author Jean Fritz as an adult
What Else?
Memoir. Sequel to Homesick: My Own Story. 144 pages; illustrated with family photographs. For upper elementary and middle grades to adult. A personal favorite.

China’s Long March: 6,000 Miles of Danger


Perfect if you want to know more about…
...Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, the little-known story of the overland military march across China during the winter of 1934, the reasons behind the Nationalist versus Communist skirmish, and what life was like on the ground.
When and Where?
all across China, 1934-35
What Else?
Narrative history book; 124 pages. Illustrated with sketches and hand-drawn maps. For middle and high school ages.

Books about Exploration by Jean Fritz

Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
• …
the humorous disparity between where Columbus believed he was and where he actually was, his relationship with his crew, and how he interpreted the geography of all the unusual discoveries he encountered.
When and Where?
Portugal, Spain, San Salvador, Cuba, Trinidad, and Jamaica (not the Indies, Japan, or China!); 1476 through1506
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book. 80 pages; great for upper elementary grades.

Around the World in a Hundred Years: From Henry the Navigator to Magellan


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…geography, exploration, how the current depiction of continents on a map came to be determined, Prince Henry the Navigator, Bartholomew Diaz, Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral, John Cabot, Amerigo Vespucci, Juan Ponce de León, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, and Ferdinand Magellan.
When and Where?
all around the globe; the 1400s and 1500s
What Else?
Narrative history book. Illustrated with sketches and hand-drawn maps. 128 pages; best for middle grades.

Books for the Youngest Readers by Jean Fritz

George Washington’s Breakfast


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…George Washington, perseverance, curiosity, and an age-appropriate example of fact-finding and research.
When and Where?
Mount Vernon; both in 1732 through1799 and in the present day
Who?
George Washington, and present-day schoolboy George Washington Allen
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book, with art by Tomie de Paola. 48 pages; delightful for kindergarten and up.

George Washington’s Mother


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…George Washington and his siblings, his mother Mary Ball Washington, and Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
When and Where?
Ferry Farm and Mount Vernon; 1708 through1789
What Else?
Illustrated early reader, 48 pages. Ideal for emergent readers.

The Cabin Faced West


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…what life was like for a young girl during isolated frontier life after the Revolutionary War.
When and Where?
rural Pennsylvania; 1784
Who?
Young Ann Hamilton (Jean Fritz’ great-great-grandmother!), and George Washington
What Else?
Early chapter book, 128 pages. An independent read for grades 3 and up.

Fish Head


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…one of the early (1950s!) picture books by Jean Fritz, and the high jinks of a cat who lives near a wharf and ends up on a fishing vessel.
When and Where?
fictional Clambake Island; the 1950s
What Else?
Out of print hardback picture book, but available fairly inexpensively. 22 pages; delightful for children of all ages.

Illustrated American History Books by Jean Fritz

 

Why don’t you get a horse, Sam Adams?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…Samuel Adams, his dog Queue and his cousin John, the Boston Tea Party, and how Sam Adams finally learned to ride a horse.
When and Where?
Boston and various points in New England; 1770s
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book. 48 pages; perfect for grades 1 and up.

Who’s that Stepping on Plymouth Rock?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…the journey (yes, journey!) of the famed rock, how much of a role it actually played in the Pilgrims’ landing, and the oft-humorous efforts to preserve it.
When and Where?
Plymouth, Massachusetts; 1620 through 1920.
What Else?
• Illustrated chapter book. 32 pages; perfect for grades 1 and up.

And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…the details surrounding Paul Revere’s midnight ride, life in colonial Boston, and Paul Revere’s interests, occupations and hobbies.
When and Where?
• Boston, Massachusetts; 1735 through 1810
What Else?
• Illustrated chapter book. 48 pages; great for grades 2 and up.

Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…King George III, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the English side of the American Revolution, and the crown’s perspective on the loss of the American colonies.
When and Where?
• England; 1751 through 1781
What Else?
• Illustrated chapter book, with art by Tomie de Paola. 48 pages; ideal for grades 2 and up.

Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
• …the colorful and energetic John Hancock, how he swayed opinion and gained influence, and his involvement in the Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
When and Where?
Massachusetts; 1761 through 1793
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book. 48 pages; ideal for grades 3 and up.

Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…Patrick Henry, how he spent his childhood, the Stamp Act and the political situation leading to the famed Liberty speech, and his rural Red Hill property.
When and Where?

• Virginia; 1736 through 1799
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book. 48 pages; ideal for grades 3 and up.

You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…the life of activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women’s suffrage, voting rights, the US Constitution, and the ratification of amendments.
When and Where?
New York State; 1894.
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book. 96 pages; ideal for upper elementary and middle grades.

Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…the Constitutional Convention’s role in drafting the Constitution, various state delegates and their differing opinions, the Virginia Plan, and the branches of government.
When and Where?
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 1774 through 1790
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book, with art by Tomie de Paola. Includes the 1787 text of the Constitution. 64 pages; ideal for upper elementary and middle grades.

Why Not, Lafayette?


Perfect if you want to know more about…
• …Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette who served under George Washington, France’s involvement in the American Revolution, political intrigue and how one might choose national allegiance, and the French Revolution.
When and Where?
The New England states and France; 1774 through 1834
What Else?
Illustrated chapter book. 88 pages; ideal for middle grades.

American History Chapter Books for Middle Grades by Jean Fritz

 

I, Adam


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…the Age of Sail and the Westward Expansion, life on the Eastern Seaboard, a fictional teen boy’s coming of age and struggle between the family farm and the call of the sea.
When and Where?
Connecticut and the New England States; 1850
Who?
Fictional character Adam Crane, who had just finished school
What Else?
Novel-length chapter book. 256 pages; ideal for middle grades.

Early Thunder


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…what it meant to be a Tory or a Whig/Patriot, what life was like for a fictional teenager on the during the American Revolution, and how a person in politically tumultuous times might choose sides in a conflict.
When and Where?
Massachusetts; 1774
What Else?
Novel-length historical fiction. 256 pages; best for middle grades.

Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt!


Perfect if you want to know more about…
…the National Parks, the Wild West, Roosevelt’s adventurous explorations and escapades both domestic and international, and Roosevelt’s action-packed path to the Presidency.
When and Where?
Throughout North and Central America; 1858 through1918
What Else?
• Novel-length chapter book. 128 pages; ideal for middle grades.

The Great Little Madison


Perfect if you want to know more about…
• ..
.James Madison’s role as a Founding Father, the Continental Congress, his Presidency, the War of 1812, and First Lady Dolley Madison.
When and Where?
• Virginia and Vermont; 1760 through1836
What Else?
Chapter book, 160 pages. Illustrated with historic portraits, maps, photographs of artifacts and more. Ideal for middle grades.

Brady


Perfect if you want to know more about…
..slavery, the Underground Railroad, how a young person comes to make decisions about morality, and the ins and outs of personal relationships during a time when the nation was on the brink of division.
When and Where?
Pennsylvania; 1836
Who?

• Fictional Brady Minton
What Else?
Chapter book, 224 pages; great for middle grades.

Jean Fritz has a unique ability to see herself as an onlooker in the midst of not only revolutions, but also tender, private moments. This insight gives her books a captivating quality few other writers of our time (she’s 101 years old!) have been able to achieve. In the way she writes, she shows us how history is simultaneously more complex, and yet more down-to-earth, than we could ever have imagined. In her American History books, she puts cloak of humanity on larger-than-life figures, and in her books about China, she shows us how ordinary kids can be living in the midst of history and not even realize it.

Jean Fritz’ living history books are a terrific way to incorporate a narrative, storytelling approach into to your homeschool history lessons.

How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book for your Homeschooling Lessons

About Gina Munsey

Gina Munsey is a Mexico-born, Eastern Europe-raised missionary kid who ended up being a Californian in Orlando, Florida. A blogger for 15+ years, editor, magazine contributor, co-op teacher, and writer who has only completed four chapters of her languishing memoir, Gina spends her humidity-drenched days full of coffee and adventures while helping her asynchronous daughter with Chinese homework. On any given day you can find them both in the middle of [home]school surrounded by stacks and stacks of books.

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