Thursday, April 26, 2007

Living dangerously

I spent much of my childhood bruised and bleeding. It was great. My friends and I played "kill the carrier," we climbed trees, we hunted each other with slingshots and we attempted to play rollerball (based on the original James Caan movie) on bicycles and roller skates.

When I wasn't injuring myself, I made a fair attempt at burning the house down. With my co-conspirators, I made cannons out of tennis-ball cans and lighter fluid, manufactured gunpowder according to recipes scrounged from the encyclopedia and shot off bottle rockets.

Of course, we all skipped school when we thought we could get away with it.

Much of what I liked about my childhood seems to have been lost in recent years. Kids don't roam freely, exploring the world quite so often as they once did. They play in supervised groups, wear full body armor anytime they move a muscle, and bathe in the glow of video games when their hours aren't structured by allegedly life-enriching, scheduled activities.

Yes, I'm generalizing, but life for a lot of kids today is different--and I think sadly so--from what it was for my generation.

Which is why I'm so excited to stumble across The Dangerous Book for Boys. Written by British brothers Hal and Conn Iggulden, the book, according to the Associated Press, "is a childhood how-to guide that covers everything from paper airplanes to go-carts, skipping stones to skinning a rabbit."

The page for the revised American edition of the book includes a list of intriguing contents:

The Greatest Paper Airplane in the World
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
The Five Knots Every Boy Should Know
Building a Treehouse
Making a Bow and Arrow
Fishing (revised with US Fish)
Timers and Tripwires
Baseball's "Most Valuable Players"
Famous Battles-Including Lexington and Concord, The Alamo, and Gettysburg
Spies-Codes and Ciphers
Making a Go-Cart
Navajo Code Talkers' Dictionary
Cloud Formations
The States of the U.S.
Mountains of the U.S.
The Declaration of Independence
Skimming Stones
Making a Periscope
The Ten Commandments
Common US Trees
Timeline of American History
Basically, it sounds like a handy guide to a creative childhood. It's been a major best-seller in Britain, suggesting that I'm not the only person to think that childhood could be enriched by a few more bumps, bruises and adventures.

The book will be published in the U.S. on May 1, and I've eagerly pre-ordered a copy to share with my son. I anticipate him giving me a few (more) gray hairs while working his way through the chapters.

I'll report here on whether The Dangerous Book for Boys lives up to expectations.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear hear, when I was a kid no one had a helmet on when we rode our bikes, and nobody died to my recollection, although everyone had their share of falls.

Yesterday, I was walking down my street in a quiet subdivision where I saw a little kid riding one of those plastic tricycles around his driveway in little circles, no going very fast at all, and WEARING A HELMET! I don't know if this is the law or just some overprotective parent, but the ridiculousness of the situation just made me stop and shake my head. Poor kid might grow up to be a hypochondriac. Just as today we obsess over terrorism, what will the next generation of nervous nellies wring their hand over.

Fear is useful in small doses, but in large portions just takes the joy out of life. Our nanny state will do its damnedest to make our lives safe, predictable, and absolutely insufferable.

April 29, 2007 9:52 AM  

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