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. 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 pain-staking 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.
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.
Columbus begins with a brief history of Christopher's early years. We see how Christopher came to his belief that the earth is round: "Once, when Christopher held an orange in his hand, he saw the tips of a butterfly's wings peeping up from behind it." We also are told how his young friends all laughed at his belief, so contrary to what was considered common knowledge at the time.
The story continues through Columbus's success as a young sailor, working his way up to the important position of ship's captain. His first shipwreck at the hands of pirates is described as well, with hungry sea creatures watching the sailors as they descend into the ocean's depths. The D'Aulaires manage to illustrate such a frightening scene in such a way that young readers shouldn't be alarmed or afraid.
And of course other important events of Columbus's life are covered: Columbus's meeting with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, his arrival in what he thought was Asia, his arrest as a traitor, and his attempts to regain his honor. The book does not skirt around the difficult facts of Columbus's life; instead, the D'Aulaires show how in the end Columbus was not a man marked by humility.
The text is just right for this age group. "Columbus kept their spirits up through his lonely, iron will. 'West to the West', he repeated. For three weeks they sailed before the wind." It makes for wonderful read-aloud material and would be a terrific basis for a study of Columbus and his great contributions to the discovery of the Americas by Europeans. 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 Columbus 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.