May 24, 2007 -- So let's say you have a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old boy and you took away his video games, his iPod and, yes, even the television. Would he know what to do? Would you know what to do with him?
If these questions make you cringe, fear not. Help has arrived in the form of "The Dangerous Book for Boys" -- a sort of "how to" guide to life and play for young boys that is enjoying sudden and sensational success.
"Dangerous" came out at the beginning of May with a modest printing of 91,000 copies. Just three weeks later, according to publisher Harper Collins, the book is in its fifth run. Now 405,000 copies are in print, many of them prominently displayed in the nation's bookstores. "This is really, truly remarkable," Harper Collins editor Matthew Benjamin told ABC News. "We just don't see those kinds of numbers."
The book is a menu of activities and articles designed to feed a boy's imagination and fuel his desire to play, explore and take risks. It includes sections on bugs, battles and baseball. There are instructions for building a tree house, a bow and arrow ("You will need flint or bone for arrowheads") and the "greatest paper airplane in the world."
If none of this seems "dangerous," the book also includes a chapter on "Hunting and Cooking a Rabbit" (along with a section on how to skin it), another on "How to Play Poker" and advice on what many boys perceive as the most risky activity of all -- talking to girls.
Still if the title seems too overblown for what is essentially a Boy Scout manual on steroids, Conn Iggulden, one of the book's authors, explained that it's meant to harken "back to a time when the word 'dangerous' wasn't a dirty one."
Iggulden added, "Ask any man about a treasured memory from childhood and they'll tell you something that involves overcoming danger. The small risks we took so blithely taught us valuable lessons."
Iggulden, who wrote the book with his brother Hal, was motivated by the fact that as the father of a young boy, he was "suddenly much more aware that things I considered important aren't being taught in schools anymore. I was also fed up with the way health and safety seems to be spoiling a lot of the activities we took for granted." Citing everything from "riding bikes to playgrounds in parks," Iggulden continued, "If something hasn't been banned completely, it's now forbidden unless the child wears the sort of safety equipment associated with professional hockey players."
Clearly Iggulden's frustrations and resulting book resonate: "Dangerous" has been the No. 3 top seller on Amazon.com and is No. 2 among bestselling advice books according to The New York Times list.
Benjamin has a ready explanation, garnered from reaction to the book: "Parents see kids spending so much time playing video games and they are frustrated. It's the right message that boys need to go outside, be active, have adventure."
But targeting boys for this message irritates some child development experts. "I think girls need it as well," said Robert Halpern, author of "Making Play Work" and a professor at the Erikson Institute for Child Development. "Danger and risk are ways of exploring your limits and who you might be and finding yourself. Girls need them just as much as boys."
Halpern has an even bigger problem with the book than its limited appeal to males. He argues that a manual of this sort is "absurd" and a "sad comment on today's parents. Why should you need a book to affirm that your kid needs to be running around having fun and taking risks?"
Maybe parents have just forgotten how themselves or maybe they just need some guidance. For instance, how many parents couldn't use a little help explaining to their sons how to talk to girls. Well, page 110 comes in handy with a list of pointers, including, "Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of windbreaking will not endear you to a girl. Just to pick one example."
If you detect an unfamiliar primness in the language, that's because the book's authors are British and the book was originally published in England. Thirty percent of "The Dangerous Book for Boys" was revised for the American edition. "We took out the monarchy and put in stickball," said Benjamin, the Harper Collins editor. Cricket is also gone, a section on Major League Baseball All-Stars in its place. But rugby made the cut, a British sport, but perhaps "dangerous" enough. The English version had nary a word on the Revolutionary War. The American edition features accounts of famous battles from that conflict and the Civil War.
And the uniquely American childhood game of cowboys and Indians, now faded into nostalgia, might get reinvigorated by the U.S. version. It includes a Navajo code talker's dictionary.
In fact, nostalgia may be a big part of the book's success. Its pages are sepia-toned and it has a red cloth cover with big gold lettering like an old book of legends.
Conjuring up childhood memories works for David Lannom, 42. He's a bookseller at a Border's Books in Chicago where "The Dangerous Book for Boys" was on display. He was going to buy a copy and said, "I know I'm not a kid anymore but I feel like it when I look at this book."
But for Drew Hutcheson, 19, a Barnes and Noble customer who we caught pondering a purchase of the book for his 11-year-old stepbrother, it was strictly a modern day motivation: "I would rather he have a book in his hand than an Xbox."
For anyone worried that risk or adventure comes along anyway to young boys, Iggulden answers that neither should not be put off by an overstructured or oversupervised boyhood. "If we prevent our sons from experiencing anything more dangerous than a well-supervised bouncy castle, they don't become sissies. Instead, they seek out even greater risks on their own, and this time, we're not close enough to stop it going too far."