American Boy's Handy Book

American Boy's Handy Book

Turn-of-the-Century Classic of Crafts and Activities

by Daniel Carter Beard
Publisher: Dover Publications
Trade Paperback, 441 pages
Price: $12.95

With the many books reconnecting kids to their fathers, nature, and useful skills, the original is often overlooked. The American Boy's Handy Book has been helping man-youths build, explore, track, 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.

In an age before screens, children built shadow puppets, magic lanterns, war kites (as awesome as they sound), sailboats they could actually sail, water telescopes, etc. Activities are grouped by season for easy reference. Even if you don't follow any of Beard's advice, there's enough out-of-the-ordinary information here to bring hours of amusement. Some of it is really useful (like knot-tying) while by modern standards some of it is just odd (like using arsenic powder to preserve a stuffed animal).

Daniel Beard wrote for kids with access to nature, construction materials, and wildlife. He assumes a level of familiarity with carpentry, mechanics and hunting far beyond that of most kids today. While many of his ideas can be implemented, many cannot, at least without remedial knowledge and experience. Curing and bending wood to make a boomerang, for instance, requires know-how even adults no longer possess. And you can't just kill animals in your neighborhood to practice taxidermy.

This book is better for showing how boys used to amuse themselves than for encouraging today's boy to imitate them. However, many of these skills can be learned with some effort, especially if you practice with projects in books like The Dangerous Book for Boys, Handy Dad, and Geek Dad. Each edition we carry is a facsimile reproduction with the author's own detailed black and white illustrations. Even if you don't intend to skin a squirrel or make snow shoes, The American Boy's Handy Book is great reading.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating
FLAWS: Many of the activities can't be pursued in a modern setting
Summary: A compendium of old-time activities and adventures with which boys can amuse themselves.

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