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Columbus Paperback – September 1, 1996
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About the Author
After the publication of Ola in 1932, the work of Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire has needed no introduction - their beautiful picture books have delighted countless children ever since. Ingri Mortenson and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire met in Munich where both were studying art in the 1920's. Ingri had grown up in Norway; Edgar, the son of a noted portrait painter, was born in Switzerland and had lived in Paris and Florence. Shortly after their marriage, they moved to the United States and began to create the picture books that have established their reputation for unique craftsmanship. 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, winner of the Caldecott Medal. The fact that they spoke 5 languages fluently served them well in their European travels and in their research of original documents. Since their deaths in the 1980's, Ingri and Edgar's books and works have been kept alive by their two sons Ola and Nils.
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But I am not sure if it lives up to the expectations I had from seeing it everywhere.
The main thing I was surprised to see was that D'Aulaire perpetuates the flat-earth myth. It is now a well known fact that the "Columbus proved the world was round" doctrine is wrong and misleading. So I am surprised to see that while D'Aulaire gave a head nod to the Portuguese mapmakers and how they knew the world was round, the book still comes off basically supporting the traditional flat earth version of the story. In reality, the Catholics had been teaching this through Aquinas (on page ONE of the Summa) and even as far back as the Venerable Bede in the 600s. Perhaps not every uneducated person knew, but the Catholic educated did, and there was no conspiracy. Everyone knew.
In fact, Spanish advisers to King Ferdinand were skeptical primarily because they thought the circumference was much longer (the trip was going to be a lot bigger) than Columbus had calculated. Turns out they were right! Not, as D'Aulaire suggests, because they thought Columbus' ships wouldn't be able to make it "uphill" as he circled around. This is NOT revisionist theory! The very popular kids' book, "The Librarian Who Measured the Earth" by Kathryn Lasky does a great job explaining this.
Another thing I was surprised to find out was that many of the pages had a lot of text per page and rather high vocabulary. From some of the classical curricula we looked at which recommended this book for the youngest ages, it was definitely too hard for my kindergartner and mildly challenging for my first grader as well, who both are independent readers and love being read to. My second and third graders got much more out of it because they knew most of the terms and geographical locations mentioned... and there were a lot!
I read it a second time with my littlest ones about six months later, which definitely helped. Obviously you have to reread to kids. But we still had to go slowly with the amount of story involved--it took us a week to really digest it carefully. This isn't a negative thing per se, just something to be aware of. The DK Columbus version for young readers was intelligent and readable in just one sitting, which my first grader appreciated and wanted to read over and over again. So he picked up more details from that book, which was only 3.99, than this one.
In conclusion, the positive aspects of this book make it worth reading, and probably purchasing. But considering the price and historical oversight, it may just be better to rent from the library. I think it appeals more to the parent than the child. At least for K-1.