July 05, 2006

Outdoor life, or, How to have an old-fashioned, dangerous summer

A city-living friend, who always seems half-alarmed and half-amused by the fact that my kids tend to go through their days fully armed (pockets full of slingshots, jackknives, cap pistols, and lengths of rope, the latter of which came in surprisingly handy the other week when we had to move a neighbor's sheep) and whose idea of fun is to leap off bale stacks and on and off a moving horse, emailed me the recent Guardian article about new UK publishing sensation, The Dangerous Book for Boys by novelist Conn Iggulden and his brother Hal. My friend wanted to know if I'd heard of the book, if I would recommend it for her city boy, and if I'd be buying it for my three desperadoes. "It tells you how to make a tripwire, you know," she wrote.

I wrote back that, based on what I'd read about The Dangerous Book, what she really wants is The American Boy's Handy Book written and beautifully illustrated by Daniel Carter Beard, the American outdoorsman and illustrator whose Sons of Daniel Boone organization was a precursor of the Boy Scouts. Available for half the price of The Dangerous Book and endangering lives for more than 100 years, the Boy's Handy Book includes such projects and activities as How to Rig and Sail Small Boats (so you too can spend all summer dodging drowning just like the siblings in Swallows & Amazons), Home-Made Hunting Apparatus, How to Make Blow-Guns, Practical Taxidermy for Boys, and, proving that danger lurks year-round, Snowball Warfare. In fact, with the extra money, you can also buy The American Girl's Handy Book by Daniel's sisters, Lina and Adelia, rather more genteel but equally nostalgic and useful; or Daniel Beard's Field and Forest Handybook: New Ideas for Out of Doors. While poking around for links to share, I found this, for Daniel Carter Beard's Online Books. Well worth a peek.

More old-fashioned outdoor summer fun, dangerous and not so, and don't be put off by any of the "Boys" in the titles if you have girls:

The Boy Mechanic, a four-volume series by the editors of Popular Mechanics, reprinted by the good folks at the Canadian woodworking and gardening institution Lee Valley, which also offers the reprint Boy Craft

Historical Headgear, Hats and Helmets: Where History Meets Duct Tape: The Ancients by Jean Lockwood and Thomas Lockwood; think of it as Red Green meets the Story of the World activity book. The publisher, BrimWood Press, new to me, specializes in "Tools for Young Historians" -- definitely worth a look. (The "Coloring the Western World" coloring book has me very, very curious despite the $18 price tag. Color me interested.) Your kids can wear their helmets while perusing and working from

the classic Backyard Ballistics by William Gurstelle, author too of The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery

Mud Pies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad; more genteel but not necessarily tidy fun

UPDATED July 10th to add that yesterday I realized that Jen at her Book Page also had a post on the The Dangerous Book, which somehow I missed when it originally went up; I like Jen's idea that "you could have a lot of fun with finding companion books where kids in the book engaged in some of the same activities!" By the way, now that Jen's back from her holiday, she's posted another one of her nifty Sunday round-ups.

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