I grew up on a cattle ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After spending nearly 20 years working as a copywriter in advertising, my first book, Confessions of a Slacker Mom, came out in spring of 2004 and made the San Francisco Chronicle's best-seller list. My second book, Confessions of a Slacker Wife, was released in spring of 2005.

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Hurray! Oh, Rats.

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I just read in The New York Times that a recently-published volume called “The Dangerous Book for Boys” has zoomed up to Number Two on the Amazon bestseller list, outdone only by the latest Harry Potter. I’m elated! This book instructs kids on such worthwhile activities as how to make a tree house, skip stones, and fold paper airplanes. Hurray! 

But wait. Now that I think about it I realize I find that disheartening. Yes, it’s disheartening that kids have to be told by a twenty-five-dollar book how to do such things as throw rocks. Weren’t these the kinds of activities children used to figure out on their own, or pick up from the kid next door, or maybe learn from their own mom and dad? Now they have to buy a book that provides written instructions and diagrams on simple childhood games? Oh, how pathetically low we’ve sunk. 

Oh well. Maybe we’ve hit bottom and are on our way back up. Since this book is selling jillions of copies, maybe it’ll mean that kids start spending a little less time with their TVs and Nintendos and a little more time outdoors. Maybe its popularity portends a shift in how we look at childhood and at playtime. Maybe, in fact, our society is realizing that kids need the opportunity to actually entertain themselves rather than constantly be entertained by organized activities and electronics. I guess I DO feel elated! The truth is, the great success of “The Dangerous Book for Boys” is fantastic news no matter how you look at it! 

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Or maybe not. You could look at it this way. Perhaps it’s just nostalgic parents buying the book for the nice little excursion it offers down memory lane. One of its own authors, Conn Iggulden, speaks of “the appalled reaction of many parents to a health-and-safety culture that prevents half the activities they took for granted as kids — and that they know were important to their growth and confidence.” So maybe it’s the parents who want to reminisce about playing kickball and tag while their own kids continue to dribble away the time with video games. Surely it’s the grownups with the credit cards, and not their children, who are responsible for the book’s status on the Amazon bestseller list. 

Then again (I’m sorry; does it seem like I keep going back and forth on this?) The New York Times article spoke promisingly of a broader movement, spearheaded by a growing number of national and local advocacy and research organizations to restore unstructured play in children’s lives. These groups cite numerous studies which report that such play has many benefits, from helping children develop their imaginations to helping them learn to get along with others. If that’s true, if “The Dangerous Book for Boys” is just one small part of a bigger campaign that’s taking families in this country in the right direction, then I guess it really is a good thing. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier! 

Yes, I’ve made up my mind now. In the final analysis I really AM thrilled about the success of “The Dangerous Book for Boys.” I’m elated! 

Um, just one last thought…which is admittedly a bit of a negative one. I’m not sure I like the book’s title. Why didn’t they call it “The Dangerous Book for Boys and Girls”? That really is disappointing.

—Muffy

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