Teaching boys to be boys

How do you build a tree fort? Make a bow and arrow? Write in invisible ink? The Dangerous Book for Boys, a bestseller in Britain, explains traditionally boyish pursuits to 21st century children. AP reports:

Exuding the brisk breeziness of Boy Scout manuals and Boy’s Own annuals, “The Dangerous Book” is a childhood how-to guide that covers everything from paper airplanes to go-carts, skipping stones to skinning a rabbit.

The book by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden won “book of the year” at the British Book Awards.

There’s an old-fashioned, improving tone to the book, with its chapters on famous battles and true tales of courage, its Latin phrases and rules of grammar, and “seven poems every boy should know.”

“I don’t think it is particularly old-fashioned,” (Conn) Iggulden said. “I think the reason people think it is old-fashioned is that it’s optimistic, and an awful lot of modern books tend to be fairly cynical in their outlook — postmodern, tongue-in-cheek.

“I thought, I want to write it straight and I want to write it optimistically, because that’s what childhood is about. You don’t have any doors shut in your face. You can be absolutely anything, you can be interested in anything.”

The U.S. edition — stickball replaces cricket — goes on sale May 1.

This sounds like the sort of book that boys who don’t enjoy reading fiction would enjoy reading.

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Comments

  1. I think boys and girls would do better to just go figure that stuff out on their own. Who needs a book to tell you how to build a fort? Kids are great inventors and can be extremely resourceful when left to their own devices.

  2. lori,

    Have you ever tried to build a model plane with just balsa wood, razor and a tube of glue? I have and it is a lot easier with directions and plans. It was one of the primary reasons I was motivated to learn to read. Even kits of plastic models go together more easily if you can read the directions.

    My father would not let me do any carpentry unless I had a drawing with accurate dimensions. It saved a lot of wasted effort and avoided wasting timber.

    Why should we encourage them to read fiction? Just teach them to write their own stories. Just kidding.

    Do we require every generation to reinvent the wheel and rediscover the laws of motion?

  3. tabitharuth says:

    We actually have this book and it is fabulous. Lots of “how-to” lots of heroes and even a great section on books that boys like to read.

    History, catapults, invisible inks, what’s not to like?

  4. And besides…surely some of the things the book lists have kind of been lost from the typical cultural transmission that used to take place, but doesn’t so much any more?

    I know a great many people in their 20s who do not cook, who don’t know how to cook, who have no interest in cooking, because they grew up eating convenience foods and takeout – their parents didn’t cook, so they never really learned how. I also know people of that generation who are teaching themselves (or taking lessons) on how to cook because they want to learn.

    A chain of cultural transmission has been broken for some families.

    I’m nearly 40 and my mom was big into cooking everything from scratch…I learned at her knee how to bake bread and make soup and all that kind of stuff. (And I still use cookbooks).

  5. wayne martin says:

    > A chain of cultural transmission has
    > been broken for some families.

    Yes. This is a key issue. Reading and intellectual activity is incubated, nurtured and transmitted in the family. A lot of it at the dinner table. With the advent of cars, TV dinners and two-family incomes, this weave of this fabric has frayed to a point where the core values of the culture are at risk.

  6. Regarding whether kids could just figure this stuff out on their own, I think it’s more of a case that they need to know THAT they can build a fort than it is a case of needing to know HOW to do so. I don’t think a lot of kids would even conceive of the idea, until they saw the directions.

    Wayne, did you mean “two-income families”? If so, what does that have to do with cultural transmission? Can a family not have two incomes and quality interactions with their kids at the same time?

    More importantly: Will there be a sequel for girls? Not that I wouldn’t mind using this book with my daughters, but I’d be curious to know what a “Dangerous Book for Girls” would have in it.

  7. Bill Leonard says:

    Ah, but skinning a rabbit? That would indeed be a dangerous concept for young minds these days — at least, such is the current politically correct wisdom. I’ll bet this book is so reactionary that it actually encourages boys to carry nasty, anti-social items such as pocket knives.

    Seriously, it sounds like a winner, and long overdue.

  8. Penguin is planning a girls’ book called “The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls.” The story mentions teaching girls to make elderberry cordials and play cat’s cradle, which doesn’t sound as appealing as slingshots and tree forts.

  9. This book seems (at a very first, very limited glance, admittedly) to have a “what real boys should do” kind of feel to it. I don’t think boys need a manual on how to be a boy any more than girls need one on how to be a girl or men or women need one on how to be men and women.

    Because, really, we’re all just *people*. Why can’t we let kids figure out who they are instead of imposing some canonized view of who they should be or what they should like to do with their free time? Let’s leave the Victorian era sexual stereotypes back where they belong and let kids go out and play.

    My neighbor’s son and a friend figured out how to build a clubhouse all on their own. No plans, no diagrams, no black-and-white glossy photos with a paragraph on the back of each one. Just some kids, some wood, a hammer and some nails.

  10. Robert’s comment on needing to know that they CAN rather than needing to know HOW is part of it. I think we’ve done a lot to squash the sort of “unsupervised play” stuff out of kids – the mooshing around in mud, the building-of-random-things, the making conkers (or elderberry cordial, for that matter).

    I didn’t know that you could peel open a maple samara and stick it on your nose to make a “beak” until I saw an older kid do it. I wouldn’t have thought to fit my thumbs over an acorn cap and use it to make a loud whistle unless I had seen my mom do it one day when we were out hiking. Again, it’s back to the cultural transmission thing.

    I think there also used to be reprints of “The Boy’s Handy Book” and “The Girl’s Handy Book” out there. (In fact, I may HAVE a copy of “The Girl’s Handy Book” somewhere on my bookshelves…I seem to remember it had instructions on how to build a window seat using crates?)

    My suggestion would be to get both the “Dangerous” book and the “Glorious” book. There were some “boy things” I liked doing as a kid, and also some “girl things” I liked doing. (And I grew up perfectly OK. Even after handling tadpoles AND making doll clothes. [just don’t try making doll clothes for the tadpoles.])

  11. Lori,

    Boys don’t need a manual on how to be boys. They just need you to stop making them feel lousy for being boys. They’re not just “people.” Not in their minds. If a book like this gets them excited, then it’s a good thing.

    There’s a lot of political correctness in education today and finding books that motivates some boys to read can be tricky.
    My son started out only reading non-fiction. He was fascinated with stories of dinosaurs, battles and ancient history. I was constantly hunting for appropriate books that made him excited to read. Later, he switched to fiction and zipped through many of the writers that boys tend to like, (and some girls.)

    There was no “steering” going on. I just got out of his way.

  12. Why can’t we let kids figure out who they are instead of imposing some canonized view of who they should be or what they should like to do with their free time? Let’s leave the Victorian era sexual stereotypes back where they belong and let kids go out and play.

    There’s a third option between “imposing some canonized view” and letting kids just go out and play, and that’s giving kids some ideas about what else they could do with their free time.

    My brothers and I (I’m female) built forts for as long as I can remember without instruction and I’m the oldest, but eventually Dad showed us how to make bows and arrows.

  13. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Two more titles – “What Boys Don’t Want Girls to Know” and the obverse. Make them seem kinda naughty and sell a bunch.

  14. Boys don’t need a manual on how to be boys. They just need you to stop making them feel lousy for being boys.

    Ah, yes, SusanS, you know me so well….

  15. Ragnarok says:

    Lori,

    “Ah, yes, SusanS, you know me so well….”

    I think the context makes it quite clear that Susan was using the plural form of “you”.