Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Dangerous Childhood

The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden. Collins, 2007. 270 pages.

When I was a child in the 1940s and 1950s, our neighborhood in San Francisco was noisy with the shouts and cries of the children who lived there. We rode our bikes, we roller-skated, we played dodgeball, and we played jump rope. We raced on foot, on bikes, on scooters, and on skates. We took our skates apart and used the wheels on various invented riding vehicles. In quieter moments, we sat on stoops and played jacks and pickup sticks. We collected rocks and cracked them open on the sidewalk, always searching for that elusive geode. We played every sort of game of “pretend” that we could dream up, most memorably something called Covered Wagon, where we used a sturdy wooden gate as a wagon seat for the lucky wagon-driver-of-the-day, while the rest of us hunched down behind him in the “wagon” bed as we traveled west. We took turns playing good guys and bad guys, riding pretend horses and shooting at each other with our cap guns. We ran, we skipped, we hopped, we jumped, and we turned cartwheels. We fell off our bikes, my sister’s foot got caught in the spokes of my bike when I gave her a highly illegal ride on the back fender, my friend Skippy broke his arm roller-skating, and Trudy’s little brother broke several things when he discovered that he couldn’t fly off a second story porch. It was an exuberant, vigorous, and yes, somewhat dangerous life, at least by today’s standards. In those days it was just what kids did all day until called in for supper.

The Igguldens remember that kind of childhood, one where every day was spent outside playing. It’s the kind of childhood that doesn’t exist any more, for whatever reason. They have written a book that might inspire some of today’s kids to have some adventures, covering every subject that kids—boys especially—get excited about. Keep this book on your bedside table and grab it up when you wonder how to make a tripwire, or a paper airplane, or a bow and arrow; or if you’re wondering about the stars, or the clouds, or the tides, or famous battles; or if you want to read extraordinarily inspiring stories about courage and bravery. It’s all here, from tying knots to Shakespeare, from skipping stones or cooking a rabbit to the Ten Commandments.

The Igguldens are unapologetic about providing instructions for potentially dangerous activities which they note “…should be carried out under adult supervision,” although they obviously realize that children have secret lives that adults know nothing about; and they aren’t afraid to inspire and instruct: “Stories of courage and determination are sometimes underrated for their ability to inspire.

This is the second book I have read on my personal challenge list. I didn’t actually read it from cover to cover, as it is a kind of reference book, to be picked up and perused before going off on another adventure. I think that it is the perfect book for my grandson, an inspiration for bringing back a healthy kind of childhood, full of exploration and excitement.

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