I'm looking at a future investment in some macs, and wanted to get some
advice on this proposed network structure...

A server with 2 hard drives to set up software raid (can OS X boot from
software raided drives? Haven't tried that in the disk utility).
Xserves are a little too expensive...XRaids definitely are out of budget

two or three iBooks with OS X

An AirPort to rule them :-)

Are there any references for a "best practices" recommendation on linking
all these together? Is it possible to have the home drives mounted from
the server, without using OS X Server? If so, how? And what happens if
one of the notebooks is taken out of range of the server? How does the
notebook handle not finding the home drives at that point?

Anyone have a good tutorial site link to start learning from?