Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Katha Pollitt: Anything Boys Can Do...

[from the July 9, 2007 issue]

I thought I would hate The Dangerous Book for Boys, the publishing sensation by British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden. Actually, it's irresistible, beginning with the cannily designed red-and-gilt, raised-letter cover reminiscent of Edwardian children's literature. A grab bag of militantly old-fashioned pastimes, skills and informational tidbits, it has brief chapters on how to skip stones, play stickball and make a pinhole projector, plus smatterings of nature lore, history, geography and culture (accounts of famous battles, all safely in the past; "Latin Phrases Every Boy Should Know"). Morse code! Star maps! Invisible ink made of pee! Captain Scott! Grammar! Remember grammar? There are three whole chapters on it. Neat! I have no idea if today's boys would rather identify trees or read about Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain than play Resident Evil 4 or download pornography, but it's a safe bet their parents wish they did. In fact, it's a safe bet parents would like to do some of this stuff themselves--teach a dog tricks, make a battery, read about the Wright brothers. Cool! Children's books are bought by parents--and grandparents, even better for the Igguldens' purposes, because you'd have to be nearly 60 to have grown up with the cultural references and worldview resuscitated here. In light of all this, it's no wonder The Dangerous Book for Boys was a huge success in Britain, sits atop the Amazon charts and is piled three feet deep at my local Barnes & Noble.

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