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

Jean Fritz, the author of nearly 50 books for children, most of them fast-paced, vividly written works of history and biography, died May 14 at a retirement home in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. She was 101.

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

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

Part of her inspiration for exploring American history came from her childhood, which was spent in China, where her 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 scarcely knew.

“Every day at recess,” Mrs. Fritz said in 1990, “that boy came up to me and said, ‘George Washington is a stinker.’ So I had to fight. I was the only one there 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 encountered George Washington on horseback in a remote part of western Pennsylvania and invited him to join her family for supper.

Mrs. Fritz embarked on a series of books on heroes of the Revolutionary War, followed by others on explorers, presidents and historically significant women, including voting rights advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton and author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her books were illustrated by a variety of artists, including Tomie de Paola and Margot Tomes.

Mrs. Fritz did monumental amounts of research for her books, including visiting the places where her subjects had lived. All the dialogue in her books was taken from the historical record.

“At her best,” historian Elisabeth Griffith wrote in the Times in 1986, Mrs. Fritz “is a skillful biographer and a graceful, entertaining writer.”

Most of her books…

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