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 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.
Benjamin Franklin begins with a brief history of Benjamin's father, Josiah, and progresses through Benjamin's childhood, covering his more mischievous moments as well as his early successes. The D'Aulaires' illustrations brilliantly communicate eighteenth-century life in New England, from village scenes in which children are seen rolling hoops to family meal tables spilling over with boisterous children. Each page of the book has Franklin sayings and witticisms incorporated in the artwork, some easily recognizable ("Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise") and some lesser known ("By diligence and patience, the mouse ate in two the cable").
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 story continues through Franklin's success as the printer of the Poor Richard's Almanac, his discovery of electricity by kite and lightening, his participation in the writing of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and, finally, his later years as a contented grandfather.
The text is just right for this age group: "Benjamin lived near the sea, and he early learned to swim and sail. He never grew tired of watching the wind carry the boats over the water, just as it carried his kite up into the sky." It makes for wonderful read-aloud material and would be a terrific historical basis for a study of Benjamin Franklin and his great contributions to young America. 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 Benjamin Franklin 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.