Saturday, May 27, 2017

Russ on Reading: What Will We Do Without You, Jean Fritz?

Russ on Reading: What Will We Do Without You, Jean Fritz?:

What Will We Do Without You, Jean Fritz?

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

I read of the passing of children's author, Jean Fritz, in the New York Times this past week. Ms. Fritz was 101 years-old, yet she died too soon because her voice is needed now more than ever. As a history teacher and as a reading specialist, I had a particularly affinity for the works of Jean Fritz. Her books were all meticulously researched and highly entertaining. I could be confident that in recommending a Jean Fritz book to children that they would get accurate information and would likely find the books informative and engaging. Most importantly, though, Jean Fritz was a pioneer in the field of history for children because she was not afraid to tell the truth about our national heroes. Her portraits of famous Americans like Ben Franklin, John Hancock, Benedict Arnold, Paul Revere and others were famously warts and all accounts.

When Jean Fritz started writing for kids in the 1960s, history for children was notably homogenized and inclined toward what her New York Times obituary called "unalloyed veneration." George Washington "never told a lie"; Thomas Jefferson was a champion of  "equality" with no mention of his slave holding or rape of slave women; Andrew Jackson was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans with no mention of the "Trail of Tears." Jean Fritz would have none of that and for that, I, for one, am eternally grateful to her. I think we all should be. Her book titles signal to us that she is taking a look at American history with something of a sideways, critical stance. Can't you make them behave, King George?; Will you sign here, John Hancock?; Shh! We're writing the Constitution; Where do you think you're going, Christopher Columbus?

Here is an example of the Jean Fritz touch from her book, What's the big 
Russ on Reading: What Will We Do Without You, Jean Fritz?:

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