Author: Jean Fritz
Major Themes: 20th century, 1920s, China, Historical Nonfiction
Synopsis: Jean longs to go home to America, but with the country in upheaval her dream may never be realized.
Homesick is a wonderful story for children, one that I remember reading years ago and still love it. I’ve never visited China, but I do have to wonder sometimes what it would have been like before the Communists took over the country. In its own special way, this book fulfils that a little. It is an autobiography, but it’s also more—it’s the story of a little girl who loves her ideal of America, and also loves the country she was born in—China.
Jean was an ordinary little girl, except for one thing: Instead of living in America, close to her grandparents, she lives across the ocean. The only thing she can ever imagine to be bliss would to be an ordinary American girl doing ordinary American things. The problem? She’s in China, and a war is going on. Her father, mother, and herself are planning to go back to the States. Jean counts down the days until they can leave—until one morning when startling news reaches them:
“All women and children have to leave Hankow today. You have about three hours to pack and get ready.”
That was that. All their plans seemed to fly out the window. With she and her mother leaving—without her father, who was needed still in Hankow—all their plans for the trip were gone. Can Jean still hold onto hope that everything will work out in time? Will the war stop so they can leave?
I loved learning about what China was like then, even though it was from the point of view of someone who wanted to move back. Through the story, we can understand how homesick for America Jean Fritz was, and yet also learn interesting tidbits about her life there in China—including an experiment trying to teach someone English. I believe all families will enjoy the story, and it is best as a read-aloud for children ages 7 – 11. Children 12 – 14 would be fine using it as a reader.
WARNING: There is some bad language in places. Also, Jean (and children around her) occasionally display bad behavior. There is one mention of undressing—page 32, last paragraph, and some parents may not be comfortable with the continuation of that paragraph on page 33.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12