Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Book review: The Dangerous Book for Boys

It's my great pleasure today to participate in the MotherTalk blog book tour for The Dangerous Book for Boys. (Disclosure: this means I get a review copy of the book and a $20 honourarium for playing along.)

Do you have any idea how to use your watch as a compass? Do you know the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb? Ever wanted to make a perfect paper airplane, or learn to juggle, or make a coin disappear? Ever been curious about the world around you and the things you are capable of doing? Then you must pick up, for yourself or the boy in your life, The Dangerous Book for Boys.

The Dangerous Book for BoysThis was a fun book to review. I'm already a minutiae junkie, and I love to know stuff. Useful stuff, esoteric stuff. That's the kind of stuff that's in this book; stuff to impress chicks with, and impress your schoolmates, too. And what a gorgeous book it is. Simply on a tactile level, it's a pleasure to hold, to admire the old-fashioned typesetting and carefully rendered illustrations.

It's not exactly a manual on how to be a boy, but rather an encyclopedia to satisfy the curiousity of the boy within all of us. The chapters are short, and follow no discernable pattern - much like the notoriously short attentions span of its intended audience. Each short chapter covers a different topic, including rules for common games (chess, stickball, poker and marbles), history and grammar lessons, science and nature, Shakespeare and poetry, and a generous list of how-tos, including how to build a treehouse, how to write in code or secret ink, how to make a go-cart, how to hunt and cook a rabbit (!), how to grow sunflowers and five knots every boy should know. And that's not even half of it!

The book is evocative of those mythic endless summer days of our childhoods, filled (in my case) by riding around the neighbourhood on my bike, stopping to catch minnows and cray fish in the creek and climb the trees in the ravine and then playing hide and go seek with the neighbourhood kids until well after dark; the kind of day we fear that our children will never get to experience in our hyper-scheduled, overprotective world. How to be Huck Finn in the 21st century.

It's an oddly practical collection of arcane information that seeks to satisfy a range of boyish curiousities and pique the interest of just about anybody who takes a moment to peruse the lovely, old-fashioned pages. We could all use a little bit more of this kind of knowledge, don't you think?

Curious? Check out the Dangerous Book for Boys website, or watch an interview with co-author Conn Iggulden on the Colbert Report. The publisher, Harper Collins, is even offering a chance to win one of 100 copies. (Edited to add: the Harper Collins contest is open to US residents only, but I have one copy to give away! Leave a comment on this post before Wednesday May 16 if you'd like me to enter your name in the draw!)

I like to joke about my barely repressed inner 14-year-old girl, but this book reminded me that I also have a barely repressed inner 12-year-old boy jockeying for position just below the surface of my psyche. My inner boy not only loved this book, but issued a challenge to the rest of my sorry self. There are two things I've always wanted to learn how to do: a cartwheel, and to juggle. Klutz that I am, it's probably not a great idea at this stage in my life to start hurling myself head-first at the ground. But right there on page 89, there's a fully illustrated set of instructions on how to juggle. It's high time I learned.

What have you always wanted to learn how to do?