Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How Dangerous? The Dangerous Book for Boys

Best seller in the U.K. and rising fast on the U. S. charts, The Dangerous Book for Boys has obviously filled a niche in a market that no one else knew was there! The book is marketed as an alternative to excessive parental overprotection, particularly for boys, who are said to be drawn to risk and danger like moths to the flame!

In actuality, the book doesn't feature a lot in the way of risky business. It covers well such time-honored childhood staples as sections on knot-tying, codes and ciphers, building tree houses, making paper airplanes, reading semaphore symbols, using sign language, fishing and trapping, and various sports. In my school library, I had multiple books on each of these subjects (not to mention Indian sign language and symbols, flying model rockets, building forts, rifles and hunting, animal tracks, hobo symbols, electric motors, camping and rock climbing, you name it!) and they were wildly popular, so the material included in The Dangerous Book for Boys has never really gone away.

What this title has going for it is an idea whose time has come (conveniently bound under one cover) and a tantalizing title. It also has great diagrams, maps, drawings, and lively accounts of historical heroic deeds. Every library and home with kids really should have a copy. I've long been of the opinion that (when they're not reading) kids need to go outside and do stuff, and I'm glad that dads are acting on that premise with the help of this book.

Unfortunately, when you look for similar books for girls, there is a paucity of titles on outdoor activities. There are gazillions of books on arts and crafts, guides to decorating your room, managing your relationships or your money, applying makeup, and coordinating your ensemble, but except for a few compendiums written early in the last century, there is not much on unorganized sports and games for girls.

One intriguing title that offers an incentive for vigorous physical activities is The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop by Kyra Gaunt. Ethnomusicologist Gaunt describes and traces the historical roots of outdoor activities such as jump rope games and songs, hand-clapping games, cheer leading chants, and other activities for girls. You don't have to be African-American to jump double-Dutch or clap out Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, and it's great to have these vigorous girl games documented for posterity.

One more general title which offers some physical activities aimed at girls is Laura Cornell's Here's How (American Girl Library), which shows girls how to throw a football and do the hula, as well as more sedate activities like braiding hair and doing magic tricks. The market is wide open for a Dangerous Book for Girls to get them up and out there, or (see my post of March 11, 2008) just give them a copy of Swallows and Amazons to show "girls just want to have fun."

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  • Publishers take note!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:43 PM  

  • My nine year old daughter heard me discussing the book with my wife and now wants a copy. She's a bit of a tomboy and thinks that the activities in the book sound cool.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:02 PM  

  • So.... why can't we just call the book "The Dangerous Book for Adventurous Kids" or somesuch? I know, I know, any gender-neutral title sounds wussy, but there are a LOT of us tomboys (and grownup tomboys) out there and - just as if feminism never happened - we are being made invisible, and told playing cool games and figuring out stuff and getting dirty and getting out from under the parental eye is ... for boys.

    As someone who spent her childhood splashing thru creeks catching tadpoles and snakes and climbing trees and riding her bike all over the neighborhood and reading science-fiction, and who hated dolls, stuffed animals and girly cliques .....

    Is a book about black girls playing jumprope the best you can do? REALLY? Hell, even Nancy Drew gets to do more exciting stuff than that.

    Children's behavior in the real world hasn't been this polarized by gender since the turn of the century - What is served by creating some reified "boy" and "girl" and shoehorning real children into them? Yeah, most boys are like this and most girls are like that. And the minority who don't fit those stereotypes still adds up to hundreds of thousands of real people.

    Good for your daughter for not letting the BOYS ONLY sign keep her out, and good for you for encouraging her to be the girl she is. It's a shame these last words are necessary again.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 10:48 PM  

  • Yehudit, they didn't call it "The Dangerous Book for Kids" because it is actually a new version of an old book that is actually called "...for Boys." There's no particular need to bowdlerize a name that has historical interest. I'm a 40-year-old woman who enjoys the book, and I have no insecure feelings of victimization just because the book isn't called "The Dangerous Book for Kids and Adults of Whatever Sex They Identify As."

    By Blogger Speedwell, at 11:56 PM  

  • I was a total tomboy, too, and I admit that I bristled inwardly the first time I heard the title of this book.

    It may be true that "for Boys" is part of the historic name of the book, but I suspect it was also opportunism on the part of the author and publisher to market it to the readership which feels that boys are currently being discouraged (some believe by a "vast conspiracy") from doing active, adventurous outdoor things.

    As a childhood "tomboy" I did all that outdoor stuff I could find, (at 11 I was very proud of being able to hang by my heels or toes) and nobody seemed to think it was a big deal, except for the normal concerns about permanent injury. To the extent that current child raising discourages boys from free, active behavior, I think it likewise discourages girls just as much.

    I don't think it's a political thing primarily; I think it's that people have fewer children and invest more of their drive for reproductive success into making sure they survive.

    Both genders need to be encouraged to be intellectually and physically active! If this book "for boys" helps with that, we females can do what we always have, which is appropriate those "for boys" things like pants and space flight and being political leaders that make sense.

    By Blogger GTC, at 2:34 PM  

  • "...which feels that boys are currently being discouraged (some believe by a "vast conspiracy") from doing active, adventurous outdoor things."

    I don't know about a "vast conspiracy" but I do believe boys are the ones who are becoming invisible these days and are discouraged from being boys. If a fun book like this gives boys some ideas about old-fashioned boyhood, what's wrong with it? My daughter isn't going to feel slighted when that book comes into our house, and will probably be interested in some of it too. But then I haven't been raising my daughter to be a victim of the patriarchy so she doesn't look for opportunities to be offended...

    By Blogger Marbel, at 6:09 PM  

  • Oh and thank you for mentioning Swallows and Amazons again!

    By Blogger Marbel, at 7:34 PM  

  • Thanks to all of you who made insightful comments on this issue.

    By Blogger GTC, at 8:10 PM  

  • I just read this great book "Dangerous Bokk For Boys" (before I give it to my ten year old pen pal)!

    By Blogger freethoughtguy, at 12:21 AM  

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