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Myth and History Brought To Life By The D’Aulaires

The myths of ancient Europe occur throughout Western literature and form part of the fabric of our culture. A well-rounded education must include these stories.

Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire dedicated much of their lives to making the Greek and Norse myths accessible and enjoyable for children.

Their 1962 classic D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths has been republished by Doubleday with an essay about the authors lives by John Cech, a sketchbook containing never before published art and a family photo album.The book itself is gorgeous - big and beautiful, 12.6x9.1 inches, 208 pages.

Equally big and beautiful, D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths, formerly titled Norse Gods and Giants, has been called the D'Aulaires' highest achievement in storytelling. This book is particularly relevant at a time when our children are entertained by Marvel Hero movies. It is a wonderful way to acquaint them with the original stories of Thor and Loki.

The D'Aulaires created two more collections of Norse stories: Norwegian Folktales and Trolls. Ola, a collage of Norwegian life, is composed from the adventures of a young boy. Children of the Northlights depicts the lives of Sami siblings in Arctic Norway. A sequel to Ola is out of print. The D'Aulaires began their children's book career with these Norwegian books.

On discovering these unusual and beautiful children's books, I became curious about the authors with the strange name: Norwegian Ingri Mortenson and Swiss Edgar Parin D'Aulaire met as art students in Munich in the 1920s. Edgar had been a student of Henry Matisse which definitely shows in his illustrations. The couple married and moved to the United States. They loved Norway and visited frequently. After the birth of their son Per Ola, they created their first children's picture books. Beginning with Norwegian stories, they branched out to American historical biographies and finally completed their work with their comprehensive collections of Greek and Norse myths.

The D'Aulaires were an extraordinary couple who truly worked together on both, text and images. The deep and glowing color of their illustrations was achieved by stone lithography, a painstaking graphic art which they had studied in Europe.The images were engraved on slabs of limestone. Their son Nils estimates that the combined weight of the slabs they produced amounts to 40,000 lbs. The description of the technique of lithography in D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths affords children a fascinating view of the hard work that went into the creation of the books.

The sketchbook in the appendix of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths contains drawings of classic Greek sculptures used in the illustrations, evidence of the solid research the D'Aulaires conducted for their books. They traveled extensively to gather information. This is also evident in their series of American biographies.

This biography of Abraham Lincoln won the Caldecott Medal in 1940.

It was followed by Leif, the Lucky, Columbus, Pocahontas, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Buffalo Bill. These history books were lovingly republished by the small California publisher Beautiful Feet as part of their primary American history packet. They make wonderful additions to any elementary school or homeschool history curriculum - with one exception. The Pocahontas biography is only very loosely based on the facts known today. When reading Columbus, you may also point out to your kids that the Venerable Bede already knew that the earth was round in the seventh century and that serious navigators in the time of Columbus were certainly aware of the fact. I cannot resist mentioning here that the emblem of the Carthusian Order, founded in the eleventh century, is a globe surmounted by a cross and seven stars with the motto "While the world changes, the cross stands firm."

The D'Aulaires were awarded the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association in 1970. This post only features a selection of their work. There is more! Enjoy!

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