Most homeschooling parents are already long familiar with the Childcraft sets published by World Book. This encyclopedic anthology for young children has been published for many years; many of us grew up with a set in our homes.
Before World Book owned the name, Childcraft was published first by The Quarrie Corporation and then by Field Enterprises. I love the Quarrie Corporation set published in 1947. It has lovely, old-fashioned illustrations and almost all of its terrific literature selections are not found in later Childcraft sets. (As one example, it includes Little Black Sambo, which no later set includes.) From this set, I recommend volumes one through six most highly, for the literature they include. Some of the other volumes are okay, but I wouldn't go out of my way to find a complete set.
I also recommend the Field Enterprises Childcraft sets, published between 1949 and 1961. Because of the superb illustrations in volumes 1 and 2, these are my hands down favorites among the series. Due to the quality of paper used, sets between 1949 and 1961 have somewhat brighter illustrations.
I do not especially recommend any set published after 1961. I would not purchase one for my children, nor would I purchase one for resale. The illustration quality is lower, the literature selections are not nearly as good, and when it comes to a modern treatment of science and nature, there are better books on the market, in my opinion.
Each set year--1947, 1949, 1954, and 1961 has its unique characteristics:
The 1947 set contains older literature not found in the later sets, but the illustrations, of a different, older style in line drawings and two colors are somewhat less appealing to most readers, young and old alike. It is still a lovely set with a superior collection of older literature that you will not find in later editions.
The 1947 set has an Art/Music volume that is somewhat inferior to the 1949 Art/Music volume, IMHO. Whereas the 1949 volume has a wonderful treatment of classic paintings, the 1947 volume concentrates on children's works, which even to most children, are much less inspiring and delightful than are the works of the great masters! The 1947 set has an excellent section teaching how to make musical instruments at home, but the 1949 set does not include this information.
The 1949 set is the earliest to offer the stunning artwork for which collectible Childcraft books are most recognized. With the use of four color printing and the work of such illustrators as Tasha Tudor, Eloise Wilkin, Walt Disney, and Janice Holland, the 1949 set inaugurated over a decade of stunning illustration in Childcraft!
The 1949 set also offers an Art/Music volume that is unparalleled in any earlier or later set! This volume measures 10x14" and includes large, clear black-and-white reproductions of wonderful classic paintings, with wonderful discussion questions. I love to open this volume across my lap, with children on either side of me and read from it and examine the paintings together. After reading about a painting, we can easily find it in color in other books in our library, which is certainly an advantage, but I wouldn't like to miss the charming descriptions in this volume.
The literature content itself changes very little, almost insignificantly, between 1949 and 1961. The only major difference is that the 1949 and 1954 history volumes contain several retold Bible accounts while the 1961 volume replaces these with later history, mostly American history. (In my opinion, being one who has a special love for Scripture itself, even for children, I would rather have the later history stories in the 1961 volume than the retold Bible stories in the earlier volumes.)
The only other major change between 1949 and 1954/1961 are in the Art/Music volumes and Science/Industry volumes. In both cases, we prefer the 1949 editions overall. The 1949 editions seem to invite children into the adult world (which is something my children treasure) by introducing them to classic paintings by adults and industry and invention (including pictorial factory tours). The 1954/1961 volumes concentrate on more children's art, more modern art, and children's experimentation and an introduction to simple machines and other beginning science concepts. We found that both the content and illustration were somewhat less pleasing in the later volumes when compared to the 1949 set. The one advantage the 1949/1961 Art & Music volumes have is that they include much more music, including more hymns.
NOTE WELL: Childcraft sets were published in a variety of covers, even during a single publishing year. 1954 was published in cream and burgundy leatherette, in plain, dull gray cloth, and in an orange pebbled paper hardback. Orange sets were published AT LEAST from 1947-1957 and the contents vary significantly from the first to the last of those years. Externally, the 1947 and 1949 sets are almost identical, but inside there is little similarity.
In other words, when buying Childcraft sight unseen, DON'T rely on the cover colors! They are simply NOT a reliable indication of content!
For more information, please see the following pages, which give an overview of contents and include pictures from the books!