With all the books trying to reconnect children with their fathers, nature and useful skills, the one that started it all often gets overlooked. The American Boy's Handy Book has been helping youths of the male variety (and their female counterparts) build, explore, learn, fight and camp without a tent since 1890. Not only is this the original, it's far more thorough than any of its successors, covering everything from stocking and maintaining a freshwater aquarium to building a replica of Robinson Crusoe's raft to trapping and raising wild birds.
The ingenuity displayed in this volume is impressive. In an age before video games and inane cartoons, children (yes, children, often alone and unsupervised) built shadow puppets, magic lanterns, war kites (every bit as awesome as they sound), sailboats they could actually get in and pilot themselves, water telescopes, and on and on and on. Activities are divided by season (spring, summer, fall, winter) for easy reference. Even if you or your kids don't follow any of the advice within these pages, there's enough out-of-the-ordinary information and instruction here to bring hours of amusement. Some of it is really useful (like the section on knot-tying) while by modern standards some of it is just odd (like using arsenic powder to preserve a stuffed animal).
Author Daniel Beard wrote to a primarily rural readership who had unlimited access to nature, construction materials and wildlife (dead or alive). He assumes a level of familiarity with carpentry, mechanics and hunting far beyond the ability of most kids today. While many of these ideas can be implemented, many more cannot, at least without considerable remedial knowledge and experience. Curing and bending wood to make a boomerang, for instance, requires know-how that has been lost even among adults. And you can't just kill animals (no matter how small and annoying) in your neighborhood to practice taxidermy.
As a result, this book works well as a bit of living cultural history, demonstrating what boys used to do to amuse themselves rather than encouraging the boys of today to follow in their footsteps. However, with some elbow grease and practice many of these skills can be learned, especially if you first master the projects in books like The Dangerous Book for Boys, Handy Dad, and Geek Dad. Each edition we carry is a facsimile reproduction of the original, complete with the author's own detailed black and white illustrations. His prose style is beautifully crafted and vigorous, so even if you have no intention of skinning a squirrel or making snow shoes, The American Boy's Handy Book makes great reading for boys (and girls) of any age.