Blog Book tour: The Dangerous Book for Boys

I'm pleased to help kick off the MotherTalk blog book tour for The Dangerous Book For Boys. To say that this book is lovely, or interesting, or useful, really understates what's going on when you open the crimson canvas cover. You feel like you're peeking inside a treasure box, or a secret magic manual, or a fairy tale that will explain the intricate workings of the world. I'm not kidding.

This is a boy's field manual to a summer (or a lifetime) of adventure and curiosity. Inside, one finds instructions for projects and experiments, tales of bravery and heroism, history lessons, essential facts, and plenty more. Everything here counteracts technology's pull, encouraging boys to wield hammer and nail or read books or mix chemical compounds. Some examples:

  • Building a treehouse
  • Navajo Code Talkers' Dictionary
  • The five knots every boy should know
  • Extraordinary stories — Part One: Scott and the Antarctic
  • Timers and tripwires
  • Sampling Shakespeare
  • Secret inks

…and, of course, the most mysterious topic of all:

  • Girls (first tip: Listen)

Speaking of which, the book's title begs the obvious question: What about girls? While I find the premise and the presentation captivating, I can't help but regret that by excluding girls the book implies that a life of science, experimentation, knowledge, and, yes, danger, is uninteresting to girls or beyond their reach.

I'm sure the book's authors had no intention of implying such a thing, and I wouldn't want this book to be any different. I believe we must celebrate the inherent differences between boys and girls rather than pave over them with a bunch of bland generalities. I just hope that there's a Dangerous Book For Girls in the offing. Imagine a book crammed full of experiments and projects and stories of feminine leadership and valor (Athena! Joan of Arc! Mother Theresa!). I'm not talking about a reprint with updated pronouns and a pink cover. I'm talking about a book that celebrates the uniqueness of girls and acknowledges they're equipped and ready for a life of adventure.

Until then, I suggest that all of you parents of school-age boys put this on your Mother's- and Father's Day wish lists. Presenting this book to your son with the promise of summer afternoons spent playing table football or making a bow and arrow is a precious gift indeed.


  1. Atlanta Jill says

    I’d heard of the book and wondered the same thing. I have great memories of my childhood summer days sitting on my dad’s colossal wood pile using rocks to mash leaves and spit together to make paper. (Did it work? I never remembered to go back out after lunch to see if it had dried into paper- clearly process, not product oriented!) I’d have loved this book too!

  2. J.D. Roth, who has no kids... says


    This looks awesome. I’m ordering one copy for myself, and one for a young friend.

  3. Kristi says

    Thanks for the review, I came across this online somewhere a week or so ago and have been wondering about it very much. Despite being the mother of a daughter and no sons, I’ll probably pick it up.

    Someone will write the Dangerous Book for Girls. It’s just a matter of who, and when. :-)

  4. none says

    I put it on my wish list. Along with: Gifted Girls: Activities Guide for 365 Days of the Year: Fun Things to Do for Kids and Grown-Ups That’ll Develop Creativity, Social Skills and Self-Confidence! (Gifted Girls) (Paperback) by Kailin Gow … that was the closest thing I could find to a ‘comparable’, even though it doesn’t have the quotes and such. I do cringe at the degree of gender-specificity in books like this (and how come the closest in range of content I found for girls was all ‘making candy’ and ‘create a flower pincushion’ and ‘paint a wall mural’? And wouldn’t those be fun for boys, too – minus the pincushion, of course … LOL!)… sigh.

  5. Busy Mom says

    I loved it, it has a “old fashioned fun” feeling to it.

    As a girl, and, the mother of a daughter, I didn’t feel left out (not that you did), there’s plenty of “girl” things out there.

  6. Kai Jones says

    I read about this a week ago (Instapundit, I think) and ordered one for my grandson. He’s only 5 weeks old but eventually I’m sure he’ll love it.

  7. Nathan says

    As a father of a girl, I would much prefer to see a “Dangerous Book for Kids” book that has exciting male and female role models. Why do we have to parcel out the men to boys and the women to girls?

    Jane Goodall and Louis Leakey were heroes of mine when I was a kid. Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindburg (until I discovered his politics).

    Rosi Grier and Marlo Thomas (Free To Be You And Me).

    Boys should be seeing heroic women so they learn that WOMEN CAN BE HEROIC!

    Why should there be certain knots for boys? That strikes me as totally nuts. And treeforts should be for everyone. The only possible thing in here that may be gender specific is the recommendation on girls, and I have to tell you most of the time our corrections for our daughter are that she needs to listen.

    Yeah, there are differences between the two sexes but they are not so profound that one can’t learn from adult examples of the other. I think books like this are insidious because they cement those differences as much as celebrate them.

  8. CJ says

    This (and the comments) reminds me of the “American Girl’s Handy Book” and the “American Boy’s Handy Book” pair. Originally published in 1887, they both have some interesting tips (albeit very gender-specific in a way that it would be nice to have moved farther away from).
    The funniest line, IMO, comes from the “Girl’s” book: the section about cooking outdoors over a fire begins, “Somehow, the boys will start a fire.”
    Hmmm…. somehow, we’re not quite sure, possibly magic. *laughs*

  9. Overtech says

    This reviewer is so naf!

    He is actually opening the can of gender politics on a book that caters for preteen boys?

    What is next? Ensuring that Sweet Valley High is sex appeal neutral so it caters equally for boys and girls? That the Hardy Boys now change their name to the Hardy Persons? Superman becomes Super-non-gener-specific-term (wow that really is super)?

    This is the kind of over-the-top political correctness that turns everylife into a minefield.

    Even the bulk of the radical feminists have stopped doing this (well, the ones outside of the United States of Crazyland anyway).

    It is this kind of thinking that leads to the formation of nutjob organisations like PETA!

    The book however sounds excellent and I have ordered one for my niece who is a bit of a tom boy (so there you big wet blanket!)

  10. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Naf wet blanket here (I assume you were referring to me, Overtech). As I said in my review, I’m quite happy with the book as it is. I just hope a similar book for girls will be made available soon, because, if I were a girl reading this book, I’d want to see myself reflected there, not get hit over the head with the fact that I’m “boyish.” Such a limiting label.

    Also, it’s pretty clear that no one’s suggesting Superman or the Hardy Boys should be neutered.

    Oh, and I’m a she.

  11. ZeitgeistMama says

    Oh Asha, I’m so glad that you mentioned the boys vs girls thing in your review – my panties are totally in a twist about this book. I LOVE the concept and the execution looks great too – I have a few old etiquette books from the late 1800s, early 1900, and they’re so funny. But this is SUCH a throwback to assume that all the cool things in this book is secret knowledge only for boys…I love the commenter’s suggestion above that it should be a gender-neutral book – we have enough segregating between what girls ‘should’ buy and boys “should’ buy in the pink and blue aisles at Toys R Us!

  12. Steph. says

    Ain’t it great? You’re kicking off the tour and I’m the closing review. What a great book to get to write about!

  13. Tim says

    Which would be more fascinating to a girl?

    the Dangerous Book for Girls
    the Dangerous Book for Boys


  14. stacey says

    great review, asha! i loved this book, as did my husband and two sons. it definitely got me thinking about a dangerous book for girls too. i wonder if one is *actually* in the works or if one of us should pitch the idea immediately! ;)

  15. Matt says

    This sounds like a really neat book. However it makes some really bad assumptions about gender and heterosexuality that I just can’t get over.
    I agree with previous poster Nathan.
    What’s wrong with The Dangerous Book for Young People? and why assume that all boys are going to like girls?

  16. jim says

    To those of us blessed with daughters, one thing you might consider is getting the book and reading it yourself, and teaching it’s lessons to your daughters directly.

    Several of the topics inside this book have already been the subject of activities and fun that my daughter and I have done together. She has a bow and arrow set that we made together, and just this weekend we went on a fossil finding expedition to a local gravel quarry. And I’ve never heard of this book before today!

    Let the book be a source for ideas, not a replacement for us as parents in teaching and sharing that knowledge. Sharing the knowledge, and learning more ourselves is part of the fun of raising an inquisitive child!

  17. Jim says

    This book looks interesting and sounds like it would round out the little activity library I have been building for a while for (our then future) children.

    I can’t recommend the books A Lithgow Palooza and Lithgow Party Paloozas more highly. They are great books along this vein with tons of ideas and full blown activities covering everything from performing your own theater, to museum scavenger hunts, to testing bridge designs, to inventing your own secret language. Awesome stuff with no gender preference (Lithgow had daughters after all).

    These are written by the actor John Lithgow after he went out to dinner with a friend in publishing, I believe. When he was asked to tell some stories about some of his most memorable moments in life (the questioner assuming they would be showbiz related), he rattled off story after story of all the adventures that he had had with his daughters.

    If you want something more geeky, pick up a copy of Gonzo Gizmos. Lots of little and big projects exploring concepts such as magnetism and solar power through tricked out gizmos that you can make with your children.

  18. Erika Sparks says

    @CJ: I’m so glad to see someone else mention the Handy books, because as soon as I saw “Dangerous” I was immediately reminded of them. They’re very gender steryotyped, but what of it? Buy both! I think Dover sells the reprints for 10 bucks a pop. Of course, you may want to tear out the section on how to build a cross-bow..or the decadent recipe for chocolate-caramels. Both very dangerous in the wrong hands. :)

  19. isabel says

    I am looking forward to getting this book for my boys. Actually I am usually buying books for the boys that were published before 1970 specfically because they have all this great hands on information about how to do things and how to make things and how things work. I also am frequently buying old fiction books for my boys because they seem to be more boy/male friendly. One of our favorites was Dick Kent and the mounted police. Great adventures and when ever I hit a part of these old books that are no longer politically correct it gives me a great chance to explain how peoples ideas and attitudes and truths have changed over time….

  20. Serena says

    I sent my husband the geekdads IKEA bed hack post, he read about this book on there, and what did he go out and buy yesterday – this book! I agree it should be “kids” BUT the book is fabulous. I can’t wait until Noah is old enough to try out lots of the stuff in there…

  21. hedra says

    Yeah, ditto on phantom scribbler… WOW, great analysis!

    And yeah, my DH (who reads here but seldom-to-never posts comments) is far more concerned about what it would say to the boys about what is required for them to be REAL boys (and apparently there are little ‘ew, girls!’ comments inserted in the book in various places, which totally nixes it for my consideration – I’ve removed it from my wish list, PERIOD).

    Interesting commentary on how the book was seen/understood in the UK (a cute/joking nod to the victorian era books?).

  22. none says

    this is ridiculous i agree with overtech, stop making a big fuss about the book not being for girls! how many books are there that are just for girls? can boys not just have one book just for themselves. girls might want to read i dangerous boook for young people but boys wouldnt! let us boys have our fun with this book

  23. Jared says

    This book is more about fathers connecting with sons than about things for boys to do.

    Some of us fathers of sons didn’t have a relationship with our fathers. This book is about getting dads and boys together, outside, one-on-one, without a television being involved.

  24. Tanya says

    i agree with _) Gifted Girls: Activities Guide for 365 Days of the Year: Fun Things to Do for Kids and Grown-Ups That’ll Develop Creativity, Social Skills and Self-Confidence! (Gifted Girls) (Paperback) by Kailin Gow is a good one to get for the girls. it doesn’t bother me there are some girl gender specific activities in here. where else could girls be just girls? for those blessed with a daughter, this one gives great ideas along with words of encouragement from spunky fictitious girl characters – the “Gifted Girls” along the way. the Daring Book is a must have, but so is this one. my daughter’s scout leader uses the Gow book.