Young girls need a 'Dangerous Book,' too

The Baltimore Sun

The Dangerous Book for Boys, a runaway best-seller in the United Kingdom, has been adapted by authors and brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden for American readers, and it is flying off the shelves here, too.

It is a retro book celebrating the vanishing skills of boyhood play, with instructions on such things as how to palm a coin, make a paper airplane, skip stones and tie knots.

There is lots of grade school curriculum in there, too, like facts on the solar system, a list of state capitals, a U.S. history timeline and lists of American trees, mountains and insects.

And the authors have also included inspiring stories of bravery and courage, plus descriptions of battles, like Gettysburg, the Alamo and Waterloo.

In interviews, the brothers have said they wrote the book not as an exercise in nostalgia or a collection of Boy Scout badge requirements, but because overprotective parents aren't doing their sons any favors.

"Boys need to learn about risk," said Conn Iggulden in an interview published on the Web. Boys, he explained, are hard-wired to love danger and to seek it out.

"Remove any opportunity to test his courage and they'll find ways to test themselves that will be seriously dangerous for everyone around them."

This book isn't just a remedy for boys who are becoming pale, chubby and emotionally soft playing PlayStation.

It is a way, Iggulden said, to introduce a kind of controlled risk into the lives of boys so they don't do something really stupid.

Walter Kirn, writing in The New York Times about the book, made the wonderful point that "parental protectiveness has come full circle with the deliberate promotion of character-building mishaps."

He said this book makes play sound like eating your peas and suggests that the best thing about play in his childhood was not that it was dangerous, but that there were no adults around telling you what to do.

Whatever you think about the necessity of exposing boys to risk, the book evokes long summer afternoons with nothing to do, an era when kids were expected to amuse themselves between breakfast and dinner without adult supervision or interference.

And it make me think there ought to be a dangerous book for girls, too. One with chapters on activities that would be considered politically incorrect or sexist or objectifying or stereotypical in today's social climate.

The Dangerous Book for Girls would have chapters on how to apply eyeliner, how to do your own French braid, plus how to know when you need to wear a bra and how to shave your underarms.

There would be chapters on how to make chocolate chip cookies with ingredients you can borrow from your neighbors, how to make real lemonade, and when to expect Seventeen magazine's back-to-school issue to hit the newsstands.

There would be chapters on brave women, like Amelia Earhart, and smart women, like Marie Curie, and dumb girls, like Lindsay Lohan. There would be a whole chapter on Diana and the dangers of marrying into a royal family.

There would be a brief history of fashion from Twiggy forward, instructions on how to hide a zit, and what to do if you find out your friends are talking behind your back.

There would be instructions for how to order from a catalog, a restaurant menu and the Web, and tips on how to tell when your period is about to start.

There would be instructions on how to walk in high heels, what items are essential to carry in your purse and how to turn down a date without hurting a boy's feelings.

Nothing about tying knots, though. And probably nothing about the Civil War.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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