Scanning Around With Gene: Danger Around Every Corner

The first bicycle I chose for myself was a Schwinn Varsity ten-speed model in a color called “campus green.” I paid for it in part with money I earned mowing the neighbor’s lawn and cleaning our pool. In those days a bicycle was essential transportation for kids, who were actually allowed to go places by themselves.

A recent search through some old files turned up the original paperwork and city license for that bicycle, along with a small safety booklet that was supplied by the local police department and endorsed by the local school district. Click on any scan from that manual to see a larger version.

Titled “It’s great to be alive!” the 16-page booklet contains straightforward advice for children and shows in rather graphic detail the consequences of carelessness.

The safety violations in this booklet are not all that important — what matters are the outcomes, which all involve some sort of injury or death. Most of the images here are the “punch lines” to some obvious form of irresponsible behavior.

I don’t remember reading the booklet when I got that bicycle, but then I wouldn’t have thought I needed any safety tips. By that time (age 10 or 11), I was already well versed in the proper operation of a bicycle, looked both ways before crossing the street, and knew better than to play around abandoned refrigerators.

My mother was a school nurse and, like this booklet, took a grim view of horseplay and thoughtless behavior. From earlier than I can remember, we were told of the dangers inherent in everyday life, and how to avoid them. “You certainly don’t want to be crippled for life,” was a fairly common statement around the house, and that was the presumed outcome for children who ignored safety rules.

I know we all heard stories of kids with eyes put out by rubber bands and similar tales of lives needlessly changed forever. I personally never knew a child who was blinded or maimed due to irresponsible behavior, but I’m sure plenty of tragedies happened. And kids have always been taught to fear strangers.

In fairness, adults didn’t have a lot of options in those days, so using abject fear was a common parenting tool. There were no reflective bicycle helmets or knee-pads for skateboarders, no designated bicycle lanes, many fewer supervised activities, and we didn’t even have seat belts in cars until the mid-1960s. When accidents happened, they were usually pretty grim.

I do know that in my case at least, these scare tactics worked — I was not a chance taker. I escaped my childhood without even a simple broken bone, just a few stitches now and then.

The poor kids in “It’s great to be alive!” were not so lucky. Staying alive is actually quite a bit of work in this booklet.

I suspect that these scare tactics are not looked upon favorably in today’s parenting environment. I doubt if local school districts give out booklets like this. The temptation to use fear must be very strong, however, because that’s what parents feel when it comes to the safety of their children.

I just hope whoever supplied the drawings for “It’s great to be alive!” didn’t suffer any long-term stress. It couldn’t have been easy depicting the sad fate of all of those children.

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Posted on: June 18, 2010

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on

27 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: Danger Around Every Corner

  1. These images are one of your best posts yet, Gene. The drawing style reminds me of the Japanese “heta-uma” type of manga, which means unskillfully-skillful, like Terry Yumura has used for years. It’s my favorite…. thanks for pulling these out of thin air.

    (PS: The ‘captcha’ code this site uses is really hard to read…)

  2. LOL. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of anxiety these things cause, not for kids (because at that age your impervious to injury, in your mind) but to the parents who actually read these things.

    I managed to score a couple of 1960s Drivers Ed films that are in the same vein. Death on the Highway shows that nothing but folly awaits you should you walk outside your house. A world of danger awaits you outside this door. LOL

  3. I’ve got to send these to my mom. Thanks for posting them.

    And a generation of neurotic, overly-cautious, fear-filled parents was born! Haha

  4. If only would-be molesters in movie theaters had heads the size of the guy in that picture…they’d be easier to spot!

  5. But I did. Especially the leaf pile one. šŸ™‚

  6. I remember booklets like this, and young teen books where the protagonist was either gravely injured, or injured someone else, due to a foolhardy action. He (it was always a he) then spent the rest of the book atoning and becoming an older and wiser person. Small wonder that by the early ’80s there was a spoof children’s radio show on a Long Island radio station (WUSB) that always ended with “…and remember kids, don’t play with blasting caps!”

  7. Wow. As soon as I saw the first image, I knew I had this book as a child. I have always remembered the image of the kid getting run over by a train. My friends and me did all sorts of stupid and dangerous things when we were young, things that would have given my parents a heart attack (and me a swift wooden paddle on the backside for being that dumb, if they found out), but we all survived without any major injuries. Now you don’t even want to think about your kids getting out of eyesight. That part of growing up seems to be gone forever now.

  8. The Fear strategy is still being used but now they tell kids the Democrats are baby killers and the muslims are everybody killers.

  9. Having grown up in the time covered by the booklet, i still have to say that life was more fun back then, we had more freedom, BUT we also had much more common sense than most kids these days, so we actually got into far less trouble and accidents!

  10. This is awesome and most of these are begging to be recaptioned. Like so:

  11. Each of those has happened to me and I’m alright.
    People are such pussies.

  12. Those are great, especially the kite and getting run over in a pile of leaves pictures!

  13. OMG I remember this book. I’m from NY and towards the end of September we would get this booklet. Fall with the deadly leave piles and horsing around near the rail road track. Some kids would be responsible but others would act like they had no sense, and encourage others without sense to join them. What always scarred me we the fire alarm. At 7pm the fire alarm would right to show it was functioning. Later on in the night after I would go to bed, an occasion fire would breakout and the alarm would sound calling the firefighters to the fire. I was fine when it happened while I was still awake, but after I went to bed and it woke me I had a terrible time, had terrible dreams. There was a fire safety video that showed a boy trying to locate his younger sister instead of following his class. His sister got out fine, but I don’t recall what happened to the boy

  14. I always wanted to know where to get that metal string they always talk about.

  15. i remember this booklet too. what a hoot. i’m surprised any of us made to adulthood. the IDEAS you can get from this! reminds me of that bunny suicide book or something. and yeah, where DO they sell metal string? and how could you get a kite to fly if it had to pull that? lol

  16. That is one awesome booklet. What year was it published? It certainly reminds me of the stuff that I had shoved down my throat in the early to mid 60’s, and like you, it worked, since I’m still kicking today and only ever had stiches as a kid.
    This booklet led very naturally into the drivers training films I was shown in the early 70’s when I got my drivers license. They were made by the Highway Patrol and showed real accident footage with lots of dead teenagers and had charming titles like “Red Asphalt” and “Mechanized Death.” Darn near scared me out of driving.

  17. We received books much like these (The art was a bit better though) a couple of times a year when I was in elementary school in Sweden in the late nineties. So then, at least, the scare tactics were still going strong.

  18. Hiding in a leaf piel and getting run over by trucks? Boy, were they inventive back then!

    The great thing is, there is a Metalocalypse episode where Toki and Skwisgaar are shown a very gory “safety instructions” video in a driving school – and it’s no more gory than this book. Pretty sick, considering that Metalocalypse is satire and this book isn’t!

  19. I think a lot of the reason you don’t see kids getting into accidents like this any more is because they tend to stay inside a lot more, playing video games and surfing the web, instead of riding their bicycles under trains. I remember the old “Blood on the Highway” films they used to show in school to impress us with the need for car safety – or maybe just to scare the crap out of us – I don’t know. Considering there were no seat belts, no airbags, no safety glass, and the dashboards were made of cast iron (well – at least very thick sheet metal) any real collision tended to result in smashed teeth, mangled limbs, and decapitations from going through the windshield, not to mention the poor bastards who were crushed to death and had to be cut out of the wreckage – those films made quite an impact. To this day, when I ride in an antique car from the 50’s or 60’s, I have flashbacks to the images in those films. No wonder some of us are neurotic!

  20. The best thing about this book is that the only point it suggests the involvement of adults is when it says that policemen are friends or to tell one if you are getting touched up. I saw on that back of a cereal box (I’m in the UK) to ask an adult to help selotape a straw to a mask. In some ways safety is just a way of making life dull.

  21. Ha!

    When I was a kid they told us that fish and giant undersea monsters would eat our toes, or worse…, if we swam where the water was deep.

  22. Wow, my parents always lamented the ones they lost in leaf piles but I never knew it was cause they didn’t receive this booklet.

  23. I’d rather have the kids scared straight than INJURED or DEAD! The problem today is that parents want their kids to live in a fantasy world just like themselves. But, after all, they are the product of today’s perversion called “political correctness.”

  24. So hilarious!!!!!!!! I love leaf piles even more now that I know they’re so dangerous! I don’t know what’s funnier, this booklet or the way to overprotective parents who are too scared to let their kids be kids.

  25. what Chick’s early work looked like.

  26. Hiding in a leaf pile is so worth it!!!

  27. Gene ā€“ Great post ā€“ which I just discovered. Iā€™m writing an essay about books intended for children that contain graphic and disturbing images. I wonder if you could get in touch with me and provide publication info. for the booklet so I can cite it. Many thanks.

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