Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Boys Will Be Boys- Let Them

A must read for summer, "The Dangerous Book for Boys".

The Dangerous Book for Boys by the British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden is a practical manual that returns boys to the wonder and almost lost world of tree houses and pirate flags. It celebrates the art of teaching an old mutt new tricks and accepts skinned knees as an acceptable risk for running through fields with the same dog yapping along.

As of July 3, The Dangerous Book is the number one seller on Amazon UK and it is holding steady at about 7,000 on Amazon in the U.S., where it was published on June 5. The Australian News reports that the book "has made it to the top five of…Amazon [Australia], after just a week."

Those results make publishers take notice. But social commentators are also reacting with both applause and condemnation.

Condemnation arises because The Dangerous Book breaks the dominant and politically correct stereotype for children's books. It presents boys as being deeply different than girls in terms of their interests and pursuits. Although it is highly probable that bookstores will sell the book to girls who then will go on to practice skimming stones, nevertheless the genders are separated within the book's pages.

The authors clearly believe that the majority of children interested in learning to build a catapult are boys. Girls are included only through a final chapter in which boys are admonished to treat them with respect.


The brothers state, "In this age of video games and mobile phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree-houses and stories of incredible courage." They advise children to "play sport of some kind. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it replaces the corpse-like pallor of the computer programmer with a ruddy glow."

Their vision is not utopian or even impractical. For example, a tree house requires only a blueprint, some scrap lumber and a willing parent. The latter requirement turns The Dangerous Book into something more than a work for boys. It is also a guide for parents, especially for fathers who wish to establish an old-fashioned connection with their children.

Indeed, since parents purchase most children's books, it is reasonable to assume that the run-away success of The Dangerous Book is partly due to their longing for a better connection.

One father describes his experience with the book, "I gave it to my 11-year-old son Charles and his friend…Then I stood well back." Raised on The Lord of the Rings, "they immediately turned to the section of the book that showed them how to create their own Legolas-style archery kit, using bits of old branch no longer needed by the Ents. When they began stripping the bark off with a big, shiny, sharp-bladed Swiss Army knife, I had to dig down deep in order to ignore the parental risk-ometer readings that were going off the scale, accompanied by vivid flash-forwards of the inevitable long, bloodstained-bandaged hours ahead in casualty."

Happily, the only injury was to evildoers who lurked in the garden shrubbery.

These days, the news about boys is not happy and often contains the word 'crisis.' The Education Sector, a non-profit think tank, offers a typical description of the perceived 'crisis' within education.

"After decades spent worrying about how schools 'shortchange girls,' the eyes of the nation's education commentariat are now fixed on how they shortchange boys. In 2006 alone, a Newsweek cover story, a major New Republic article, a long article in Esquire, a 'Today' show segment, and numerous op-eds have informed the public that boys are falling behind girls in elementary and secondary school and are increasingly outnumbered on college campuses."

Society is awakening to the possibility that boys have been disadvantaged. In past decades, what it means to be a boy has been redefined, deconstructed, reconstructed, politically analyzed and mathematically modeled. In the process, the meaning of being a boy's father has become jumbled as well.


Anonymous said...

We received our book on Tuesday. Some of the subjects that are covered include: Timers and tripwires; Spies - codes and ciphers; Juggling; Making a paper hat, boat and waterbomb; Secret Inks; Skimming Stones; Hunting and Cooking a Rabbit. My son's (13) favourite are Making a Bow and Arrow, Morse Code and A brief history of artillery.
This will indeed be a book to keep!

Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

Mary, Thank you for this. I'm linking to it. This is a book we need to promote. I only regret that my sons are grown I'm reminded of the firstb editions of the Scout's "Handbook for Boys".