The enticement began with her titles. There was “And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?” (1973); “Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?” (1974); and “Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?” (1975).
There was “Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?” (1976); “Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?” (1977); and “Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution” (1987).
Turning the title page, readers were pulled immediately into the story. “Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold” (1981), for instance, opens this way:
“When Benedict Arnold was a teenager, some people in his hometown of Norwich, Conn., predicted that he’d grow up to be a success. Others said, no. Benedict Arnold would turn out badly. As it happened, everyone was right.”
Glimmering throughout the narratives were the curious facts that Mrs. Fritz had mined in the course of her research: Paul Revere, on setting out for a certain horseback ride on the 18th of April in ’75, discovered he had forgotten his spurs and dispatched his dog to fetch them. Harriet Beecher Stowe hoped only that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” would realize enough money to let her buy the material for a silk dress.
Reviewing Mrs. Fritz’s book “Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus?” in The New York Times Book Review in 1980, the children’s author Georgess McHargue wrote, “Jean Fritz has what amounts to perfect pitch when writing history or biography for young people.”
The only child of Arthur Minton Guttery, a Presbyterian missionary, and the former Myrtle Chaney, Jean Guttery was born on Nov. 16, 1915, in Hankow (now Hankou), China.
Her fascination with the American past, she later said, began with her parents’ stories of their homeland.