Try This at Home: Book Captures Boyhood Nostalgia Conn and Hal Iggulden worried that the old-fashioned skills they learned as boys would disappear in the age of DVDs and video games. So they wrote The Dangerous Book for Boys and filled it with ingredients to get boys off the computer and into the backyard.
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Try This at Home: Book Captures Boyhood Nostalgia

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Try This at Home: Book Captures Boyhood Nostalgia

Try This at Home: Book Captures Boyhood Nostalgia

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Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Boys are made of, well, sometimes, it's just too terrible to contemplate. Conn and Hal Iggulden are two British brothers - Conn a novelist, Hal a theatre director - who wrote a bestselling book about what every boy should know.

"The Dangerous Book for Boys" runs the gamut from how to make a paper airplane to build a tree house to understanding dinosaurs and highlights of military history. The U.S. version has also become a big hit. Just before he went on paternity leave, Scott Simon met Conn Iggulden at the Codfish Park workshop in New York to put some of the book's chapters to the test.

SCOTT SIMON: Well, did you have a feeling that boys are just getting a little too devoted to video games?

Mr. CONN IGGULDEN (Novelist and Co-Author, "The Dangerous Book for Boys"): Ah, that was a very strong feeling. Yes. I mean, in some ways, it was just an attempt to recapture everything we did as kids, and everything we wanted, sort of, to remember when our own children come along, my own son in particular. But yes, that was also - that (unintelligible), "The Dangerous Book for Boys", putting in the word dangerous and the word boys in the title is quite deliberate. It is…

SIMON: It got me to open it up.

Mr. IGGULDEN: Yeah, well, exactly. But it's partly a reaction against the health and safety code to has gone as far as it has, but also this sort of fear of parents that, you know, that there are so many of them terrified to let their kids go out of sight for more than 30 seconds. And they think that it's much safer putting them inside with the PlayStation for six hours a day, the sad irony. That system(ph) is not healthy and it's not safe.

SIMON: And enterprising, what do they (unintelligible)

Mr. IGGULDEN: Well, in the long run, you know, stopping a boy in particular, taking small risks like falling off monkey bars, falling out of trees, all the rest of it. He doesn't become a sissy. What actually happens is he takes extreme risks on his own. And we've that again and again, boys, you know, if they're left without any sort of real chance to test themselves, they go absolutely bizarre and could rather end up really getting hurt, instead of trying to get hurt a little bit in a safer environment.

SIMON: Now, in addition to some of the more obvious or sensational things we're going to try here. Let's explain that the book also includes, let's see, poems, some very good ones, Kipling and others. It certainly includes history of great battles.

Mr. IGGULDEN: It sounded to me, you're not - you haven't been told to specialize as you can be, you know, interested in just about anything. And as far as the practical things, we wanted to sort of reflect that wide range. I mean, it's fairly low tech. I help design a building, like building a go-cart here and it is fairly low tech because you can't do sort of top electronics when you're 10 years old. But you can do something simple with bulbs and batteries and wires and that was about the level we wanted.

People have said it's an old-fashioned book. But it's not old fashioned because it's low tech. It's old fashioned because it's optimistic. And I didn't want to write a sort of cynical postmodern comments sort of thing. I wanted to write something, which reflected that time of optimism.

(Soundbite of machine noise)

SIMON: Now, tell us about what we would call a soapbox racer.

Mr. IGGULDEN: Okay. The point about this is it's incredibly simple. We had one when we're kids. It lasted for about 10 or 15 years.

SIMON: This is you and your brother?

Mr. IGGULDEN: Yeah, he's about a year and a half younger than me.

SIMON: Okay.

Mr. IGGULDEN: So usually be (unintelligible) childhood fighting but when we didn't, we would occasionally make things.

SIMON: Tyler Merson who owns the workshop borrowed a few wheels from a couple of hand trucks to make the go-cart and provided wood planks, nuts, bolts and some curlicued metal thingies. I think the technical term for them is screws. He cut the wood to the proper length with a power saw that sounded like it could slice a battleship.

(Soundbite of power saw noise)

SIMON: We began at ground level by securing the wheels.

Mr. IGGULDEN: We're just going to put one to lock against the other. Now, leave the first one just a little bit away from the carcass of the wheel because if you get it too close it will jam it up.

SIMON: That's good, right? That wheels turn.

Mr. IGGULDEN: Yeah, that's okay.

SIMON: Now, I'd probably feel more at home in a bauxite mine, a nuclear power plant or a county jail than I do in a woodworking shop. So I sit at the carpenter's table to Conn Iggulden.

So the saddle has been put over the axel?

Mr. IGGULDEN: Tough. How does that sound? Good. It's pretty, pretty (unintelligible). That was pretty good.

SIMON: Thank you.

Mr. IGGULDEN: This is something other than strong (unintelligible).

SIMON: In both of our countries, there's sort of a mentality now where children can't do things, youngsters even, just because they're fun, they have to kind to be learning something in the process. And to be just tiresome about it, you can learn a lot about doing this, right?

Mr. IGGULDEN: Well, yeah, I mean, it (unintelligible) simple skills but, I mean, there's also an immense amount of satisfaction to be gained from making just about anything with your hands. My father used to, you know, always say - I would say used to - he is in his 80s, he's still alive. And I can't stop talking about it in the past tense. He still says that you might not be excellent at something. You might not be an expert, but you can be competent at a bunch of things. I like that.

Jack of all trades, master of none. This isn't about (unintelligible) to go, in some ways. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to get some screws. Now, where did they go to?

SIMON: Putting together a go-cart is a test of precision. The wheels have to be aligned so that they can swivel.

Mr. IGGULDEN: Those (unintelligible) first time. The second axle.

SIMON: Did you find as you and your brother worked on the book, it brought you together in a whole different way?

Mr. IGGULDEN: Yes. I mean, partly, (unintelligible) nostalgia. We live in memories. I mean, when were kids, we used to have something called the Black (unintelligible) and there were already two members. It was me and my friend Richard and my brother was the provisional member who had to complete tasks to become a whole member, you know, as being the younger one.

SIMON: And you kept coming up with new tests?

Mr. IGGULDEN: Oh yes, every week. He wasn't quite up to scratch but we made him try something else. One of them is jumping off the carriage routes. We're just, you know, fly(ph) as high the ceiling.

SIMON: Yes. (unintelligible) trophy. Yeah.

Mr. IGGULDEN: And we - I told him it wouldn't hurt if he said the words, fly like an eagle.

SIMON: Conn Iggulden needed the size to go-cart for a driver who's a 40 regular, not a sixth grader.

Mr. IGGULDEN: The planks(ph) I made in the book was three-foot-six. I mean, it depends on the age of the child.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. IGGULDEN: And the size of the child. How much growing room did you…

SIMON: The child was me.

Mr. IGGULDEN: Right. You should genuinely sit on it. How are we going to do this? Do you want putting it on the floor? (unintelligible)

SIMON: Okay.

(Soundbite of workshop noise)

(Soundbite of go-cart engine starting)

SIMON: My gosh. Conn, that's handsome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: So what do I do? Sit on it?

Mr. IGGULDEN: Sit on it and hope it doesn't break.

SIMON: All right.

It didn't so much as wobble but will it run? We stepped outside into the main streets of Greenwich Village. Well, I mean, now - as if we're talking about the fires of the cappuccino under a cloudy May sky to test drive our lean machine. The go-cart is a superb conveyance for a man like me, a city kid with no driver's license, no pedals, speedometer, turning signals or global positioning system. A friend just pushes and you go.

Mr. IGGULDEN: For 10th Street just between C and D.

SIMON: And we're about to give this a try.


SIMON: Con, should we name it?


SIMON: What?

Mr. IGGULDEN: The rooster.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: The rooster, okay. The rooster.

For a day now, (unintelligible) looking ahead. We got a paddle of water. We got some uneven streets.

It's no checkered flag to come down. Conn Iggulden just gets a running start and gives me a chug.

(unintelligible) me, I'm ready. Yeah. All right. Yes. Yes, whoa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: Scott Simon spoke with Conn Iggulden at the Codfish Park workshop in Manhattan. Conn and his brother Hal wrote "The Dangerous Book for Boys" published by Harper Collins.

For tips on how boys should treat girls, read the excerpt at our Web site,

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

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