Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Dangerous Book for Boys

I commented in a previous post ("Boys and reading success") that:
Boys, because they are boys (and are different) will enjoy books more when they help them to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do stuff!
The Dangerous Book for Boys written by Conn and Hal Iggulden (Harper Collins, 2006) just about covers all of my list (I'm reviewing the Australian edition). I'd heard about the book but a child of one of our friends introduced me to this great book properly in January this year. His name is Charlie and he lives on a wheat and sheep farm in the Riverina district of NSW. We were staying for a few days and after bowling at him (that's cricket for non-Aussie readers) in the back yard for half an hour we went inside and he showed me his latest book. My jaw dropped as I checked out the contents, I had to have this book, well maybe my own copy. Charlie began to show me all the great stuff inside:

How to make the greatest paper plane in the world
Building a tree house
Making a G0-cart
Some Australian snakes
Understanding grammar (true!)
Skimming stones
Making a periscope
Star maps
Five poems every boy should know
Secret inks
Latin phrases every boy should know
Making crystals
The laws of cricket, rugby, football

And lots, lots more!
As we flicked through the pages together, marvelling at all the things we could make Charlie said in hushed tone, "there's a funny bit here" (pointing to the section on "Girls"). "What's it like?" "It's real funny", he said. Maybe it was the bit about boys and wind breaking. We laughed together as we read this VERY important section that every young boy aged 8-12 years needs to read. This is my favourite bit of the advice about girls:

"Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of wind-breaking will not endear you to girl, just to pick one example"

As you can tell, this is not a book just to be read alone. Having your Dad, a Grandad, an Uncle or your best mate to explore and make this stuff would help (okay, your Mum could help but...). Here's a chance for boys to be boys, and in particular, to do some stuff with their fathers. I've commented previously in this blog about the important role that fathers play in supporting their children's learning (here) - this book is the perfect vehicle for strengthening relationships between fathers and their sons. It will certainly get them off the computer and outside.

There will be critics of the book who won't like its assumption that boys and girls are different (I think they are different) and some might also be critical of the somewhat idealised expectations that the book might raise for adventure and fun that might not be met for Dad's or their sons. I wouldn't worry about this, there is lots to have a go at that WILL meet expectations; so maybe apartment dwellers will find the tree house tough, do something else. On the gender difference issue, there is ample evidence in the research literature now that supports the view that boys and girls are different (not just culturally and due to socialisation). Leonard Sax's book "Why Gender Matters" is a good introduction to the topic if you are interested (I'll try to review it in a future post). And for those who must have some gender equity the recently released "The Daring Book for Girls" by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz should keep you happy [Update to this post, 10/10/08 I have now reviewed this book here).

The book is a little pricey at $AUS45 list price (you can do better than this at good bookstores - $25-40) but it's worth the cost. There is also now a pocketbook version out that is cheaper.

As John Doyle says in the foreword:

"This volume is chock-a-block full of practical ways to exercise the mind and imagination...". But he also stresses that it's dangerous. "Once you've hopped into the canoe and paddled out into the stream of information, you may never want to return to the humdrum world of mass-produced experience."

And yes, I now have my own copy! My wife Carmen bought it for me.


Louisa Claire said...

Hi Trevor, so glad to see you review this book as I have often looked at and wondered...
Also, I wanted to send you an email about a little project I have started. Perhaps you can email me at and I can tell you more. You may also like to check out to find out more. Would love to feature your blog if you are interested! Have a look, send me an email and let me know...cheers, Louisa

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Louisa, nice to hear from you, I'll have a look at your new site and send you an email.

Misrule said...

Hello Trevor,

It might interest you to know that the Australian edition of the Dangerous Book for Boys was edited by Jonathan Shaw, who was for moer than 16 years the editor of the NSW School Magazine. Jonathan receives no credit in the book for his work, which included sourcing and writing new material, and I like to drop his name in whenever I get the opportunity.