Now, with the news that my father is sending a copy of The Dangerous Book to Daniel for his eighth birthday, coming up this weekend, and after reading a piece on the Iggulden brothers, Conn and Hal, in the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine (which I like for the articles and the pictures), I'm prepared to admit there is room on the shelf -- the one devoted to old-fashioned children's pastimes -- for The Dangerous Book as well. The main difference between the two books is that while The American Boy's Handy Book includes only projects, The Dangerous Book includes guides to proper English usage, as well as a series of "Extraordinary Stories", such as "the one on the exploits of World War II R.A.F. fighter ace Douglas Bader*, who racked up the fifth-highest number of kills in the Royal Air Force despite his flying with prosthetic legs":
As Conn explains, it's really not about the penknives and air rifles, "it's to do with the way children are raised and what they consider important." Which is why he considers "Extraordinary Stories" vital to the book. "If you put in a story of incredible endurance or courage, you are saying these are impressive values," he says. "[Boys today] don't get heroic stories in the way I did. And I think they're desperately important."Somewhere, quite rightly, Charlotte Mason is beaming. And the folks at Flying Point Press who are bringing back the Landmark books should be smiling, too.
I was particularly heartened to read, while the Igguldens were expecting some British backlash because of activities involving "power tools, penknives, and -- in the case of a procedural on rabbit-hunting -- an air rifle and entrail work", the backlash never came, since the book struck a chord with British families. The authors may not be so lucky in the US, where the publication of an American edition next month -- next Tuesday, in fact -- no doubt inspired the VF feature. Publisher's Weekly interviewed one of the brothers, who, in response to the question "What do you think it is about this book that’s resonating with today’s kids, who clearly have a lot more than a book on how to tie knots vying for their attention?", answered,
A lot of parents are getting fed up with an overly restricted attitude for their children, much of that coming from their government. Paper airplanes are being banned in the schools for fear of someone poking their eye out. That sort of thing is slightly annoying and really isn’t good for children, especially boys. They have to learn where their own limits are. We’re taking about managed danger here. We don’t want them running out under cars. But if they don’t [learn what their limits are], God knows what sort of pale, white, fat adults they’ll become.To which both PW commenters so far unsurprisingly took exception (should one even bother to point out that what Mr. Iggulden was referring to were pale, white grubs? You know, the kind that live outdoors, in nature, under logs. Heavens, get those commenters out from under their logs and away from their computers for a bit of fresh air and sunshine.)
And then there's this recent wire service article from various online North American news websites,
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.Though why North Americans can't figure out that girls, and women, are most welcome to pick up the book and make use of it, is a mystery.*
It spent months on British best-seller lists, has sold more than a half-million copies and took the book of the year prize at last month's British Book Awards.
The book will be published in the United States May 1, allowing American boys -- but not their sisters -- to learn how to play marbles, make invisible ink, send Morse code and build a tree fort. ...
It's possible to see a less wholesome side to the book's nostalgia. Girls are discussed, in a single chapter, as something akin to another species: "They think and act rather differently to you, but without them, life would be one long football locker room. Treat them with respect."
Girls are explicitly -- and, some argue, unnecessarily -- excluded by the book's title. ...
Danger on American shores, Will Robinson, danger!
*I will admit, however, to more than a bit of discomfort, however, at the Igguldens' UK website's shilling of The Goddess Guide, especially since it seems geared more toward women than girls. I apologize for any retching sound you may hear coming from my direction. I'm willing to bet my collection of pocketknives confiscated while doing the laundry that the mention is there by order of HarperCollins, who should give the decision a bit more thought. Especially since they made sure that the "Girls" page didn't make it to the US website.
UPDATED to add: Just learned that earlier this month The Guardian's The Bookseller section included the following item:
The runaway success of The Dangerous Book for Boys has inspired Penguin to start a list of "boy's own" classics. Six end-of-empire adventure tales are being given nostalgic covers, aimed squarely at the Father's Day market in June. They are: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; She by H Rider Haggard; The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope; The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers; The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan; and The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton. A dashing collection for any middle-aged boy's bookshelf.
* If you happen to discover on TV the 1956 British movie Reach for the Sky, starring Kenneth More as Bader, watch it with your kids. Not on DVD in North America any more, though you can find it in the UK.