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The Pocket Guides of Bart King

Reviewed by Katy Killilea


Bart King is my new hero. On the surface, his books might look like they’re getting by on being similar to the ubiquitous Dangerous Book for Boys. King’s pocket guides–with illustrations of paper airplanes, Chuck Taylors, and a slingshot on their covers–do cash in on that kind of scrappy retro charm. But these books are something entirely different.

These books are hilarious. And informative–if you want to know how to get the best of your nemesis or play toilet tag. What makes these special is not only that they’re well-written, well-designed, and funny, but also that they present information that is actually new and actually useful (again, useful to the sorts of people who like to play toilet tag).

A few tantalizing sample tastes:
From The Pocket Guide to Mischief: “You’ll need some cream cheese. First, roll the deodorant out maybe half an inch . . .”
From The Pocket Guide to Games: “Fill several balloons with water, and hang one from a tree . . .”
From The Pocket Guide to Boy Stuff: “Here are two hand-grenade designs that you can use that won’t start a fire . . .”

gamesIf these don’t seem gender-neutral enough, and you have a daughter who is into this kind of thing, rest assured that Bart King also has girl versions: The Big Book of Girl Stuff gracefully and barely touches on puberty, but includes plenty of pranks, code names, and hijinx for kids who like bright pink more than baseballs on the covers of their books.

Should someone you know be interested, visit the author’s web site: www.bartking.net. It includes video clips illustrating some of the guides’ proposed activities!

The details:
The Pocket Guide to Boy Stuff
The Pocket Guide to Games
The Pocket Guide to Mischief (nominated for the Stephen Colbert book award!)
By Bart King
$9.95 Gibbs Smith

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  • I was so excited to revisit these books. But they make horrible bedtime reading. The opposite of settling down happens.

  • Gee, I had something to write just a moment ago… but after reading Jan’s line (“I’m going to use surface streets to avoid the gender fender-bender”) my “clever” thought got intimidated and scuttled off!

  • I’m going to use surface streets to avoid the gender fender-bender above, and get right into the heart of how popular these dog-eared, experiment-stained, passed-back-and-forth books are in my home of two girls and a boy. When an idea comes out of one of my kids mouths that sounds utterly preposterous and borderline dangerous, to the point where I find myself reflexively saying, “NO!”, I know they’ve been spending time with Bart. Then I reconsider and I say, YES! And that’s a good thing! Because he’s full of thinking, playful activities. And there’s chemistry, for sure. Lots of physics, if you consider gravity and its wicked application in boomerangs, slingshots, and the like. (Also, liberal arts, economics, and social studies of a sort, from this former teacher.) Anyway, good books that will be devoured by kids. I have to go now. My children are running around with cutlery. Baaaarrrtttt…..!

  • Cream cheese in a deodorant stick is a good prank whatever the gender of the perpetrator or victim.

    The books are good for boys or girls, especially if they don’t have “boy” or “girl” in the title!

  • Bart, thanks for your response. I am not actually judging the books by their covers, but I admit I’m judging them by their tables of contents. I appreciate that you hope there would be crossover appeal, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re pretty clearly creating a boy category and a girl category and filling each with very stereotypical topics. (The girl’s book having a hidden blue “chemistry” cover doesn’t really impress me, because it’s meant as a joke designed to hide the “real” content, which I’m guessing contains very little chemistry.) I prefer the concept of your books on mischief and games, which I think actually do have crossover appeal since they don’t label their audience right in the title.

    In any case, I don’t really mean to be combative. I’m enjoying this web site very much and appreciate being exposed to the different books, CDs, etc. out there for kids right now.

  • I just wanted to thank Katy for her gracious review of the pocket guide series. The books have been a joy to write, and I’m glad that their spirit of fun came through!

    Regarding gender stereotyping, I think it’s important not let the cover of a book throw one off-track. For example, removing the dust jacket of THE BIG BOOK OF GIRL STUFF reveals its “real” cover is a blue one that reads “CHEMISTRY.” (Really!)

    It’s also worth noting that I collaborated on GIRL STUFF with my five sisters and 50 ‘tween and teen girls. In short, I think both it and its companion volume cross over stereotypical boundaries quite as ably as DANGEROUS BOOK and DARING BOOK (titles which I reviewed favorably). Putting the word “boy” or “girl” on the cover of a book doesn’t have to limit a book’s appeal; some of BOY STUFF’s most enthusiastic readers are girls, and GIRL STUFF has proven to be very educational for a number of boy readers!

    All the best,
    Bart King

  • The Pocket Guide to Games, I just noticed, doesn’t say anything about boys or girls. That’s nice. But readers’ comments made me realize that I was thinking of the “games” book as being for boys. When I was a girl, I would have wanted the hot pink version, but as an adult, I see the ones for boys as a ton more fun.

  • I agree with not wanting to buy into stereotypes. When my boys and I see a book like this (that says “boys stuff”) it gives us the opportunity to joke and talk about what people consider boy and girl stuff and how it applies to us. Even though I am a girl I prefer the color black to the color pink. My boys were never very into trains and cars or explosions. I am a fan of THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS and THE DARING BOOK FOR GIRLS which crosses over stereotypical boundaries.

  • While I’m not going to take up the subject of whether there are innate difference between boys and girls, must these books play so far into the same old stereotypes? The Pocket Guide to Boy Stuff has chapters called Activities! Experiments! Fireworks and Explosions! and more along those same lines. The girls’ equivalent has chapters called Boys, Beauty, Hair, and Shopping (the less egregiously stereotypical chapters are on things like gossip and handwriting). I don’t expect my son and my daughter to like exactly the same things, and I do appreciate the cute designs that appeal to kids at an age when they are strongly identifying as boys or girls, but I certainly hope my daughter grows up to like activities and experiments at least as much as hair and shopping.