If you've been a homeschooler for any length of time, you're probably familiar with Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's beautiful history books for children. The D'Aulaires wrote such books as Leif the Lucky, Benjamin Franklin, and Columbus during the early and middle part of the twentieth century, and homeschool publisher Beautiful Feet Books has republished seven of the D'Aulaires' history books as well as their charming Star-Spangled Banner.
From the Beautiful Feet site:
Their books were known for their vivid lasting color, a result of the painstaking process of stone lithography used for all their American history biographies. This was an old world craft in which they were both expert, which involved actually tracing their images on large slabs of Bavarian limestone.
Leif the Lucky begins with a brief history of Erik the Red, Leif's father, who was notoriously violent and bad-tempered. It continues with Leif's many voyages, covering his command of the Norsemen with whom he sailed to what is now America. The book also tells of his mother's conversion to Christianity after Leif took the message of the gospel back home to Greenland.
Throughout their long careers, Ingri and Edgar worked as a team on both art and text. Their research took them to the actual places of their biographies, including the countries of Italy, Portugal and Spain when they were researching Columbus; to the hills of Virginia while they researched Washington; and to the wilds of Kentucky and Illinois for Abraham Lincoln. The fact that they spoke five languages fluently served them well in their European travels and in their research of original documents.
The D'Aulaires' depictions of Erik are somehow not scary, and yet they maintain the impression that Erik the Red, and later Leif the Lucky, were men to be reckoned with. Regarding the illustrations, children will clearly be able to picture the people and events covered in the book but even the most sensitive child shouldn't be put off by the scariest of men.
And the text is just right for this age group as well: "The sun stood so high in the sky that Leif knew he was very far to the South. When fall came he loaded his ship with grapes and precious lumber and sailed off toward the North and a little to the East." It makes for wonderful read-aloud material and would be a terrific historical basis for a study of Leif the Lucky and his voyages to the New World. As noted above, the D'Aulaires were careful to make certain that the information they were writing was historically accurate.
My strong readers could tackle Leif the Lucky on their own in third grade or so. I find that the books are attractive to my children because the covers are colorful and each page is laden with illustrations and interesting borders. If I keep them lying around the house, the kids tend to pick them up on their own. A well-written history book that entices a child to read it without my direction is a book worth having in my library.