Thursday, February 08, 2007

Regarding Subversive Children's Books

Here's a blog entry by Dr. Helen that triggered some memories. It's her mention of a work called The Dangerous Book for Boys.

My "bible" as a youngster was The Modern Handy Book For Boys written in 1933. The copy which I'm looking at fondly as I write, was given to me by my clearly irresponsible father. The author, Jack Bechdolt, would no doubt have been prosecuted for his subversive ideas were he to have brought his manuscript to a publisher today.

True, this thick book has relatively benign chapters on puppet making, magic tricks, insect collecting and other fun, harmless things (unless you consider braving the hazards of the great outdoors, necessary for locating bugs, dangerous).

But far more intriguing for boys (at least before they were encouraged to get in touch with their feminine sides) were the sections devoting to the construction of zip guns, darts and something called a whip bow. There is a chapter on building an attic shooting gallery, and sections on whittling and using an ax.

There are detailed plans for building various boats and an ice yacht with wheels. Although I never built the latter, it seemed perfect for riding in the middle of the street.

The book contains an unending list of activities guaranteed to induce various levels of mayhem, death and destruction. It's a miracle that I or any of my friends survived childhood. Yet we somehow overcame our youth before the relentless stampede of product liability attorneys that have become so dear a part of our social fabric.

One would think that such a book would never again be published for boys. First of all, the mere suggestion that boys and girls might have separate interests is a virtually taboo topic in today's proper social circles.

Second, after endless billable hours, the lawyers would have whitewashed this handbook until it was unrecognizable in its mediocrity and blandness. All references to things dangerous and any depictions of gender stereotypes would be expunged.

It is nice to know that at least someone is trying to resurrect the "Book for Boys" genre as Dr. Helen brings to our attention. I seriously doubt however, that the Dangerous Book for Boys can even approach the reckless hazards promoted by Bechdolt.

Pity. I had a lot of fun shooting my homemade zip gun as a kid. And I never used it to attack girls. And I never put out anyone's eye.



Blogger Unknown said...

Excellent read. As an installed father of five boys, I am fascinated that such a book exists. Is it still in print?

Rob in Falls Church

March 12, 2007 3:01 PM  
Blogger Peregrine John said...

robert: there is also The American Boys' Handybook, published around 1890 (and written by a founder of Boy Scouts) which has similar, if slightly more primitive, levels of activities guaranteed to generate disapproving puckers amongst The Legion of Rounded Corners.

I have both it and the Dangerous Book for Boys, and while I love both of them, the latter title is decidedly undangerous.

July 17, 2007 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even growing up in the 50s we had dangerous ideas, starting with automobiles. Remember the car seats that hooked over the passenger's seat back and hung there with the kid's legs dangling? Or that three or four piling in the back of a pickup was acceptable transportation? And that cars didn't come equipped with seat belts?

Of course, I also remember my friends and I riding our bikes or rollerskates without helmets.

Odd ideas we had, then, huh?

October 09, 2007 10:14 PM  

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