There are two ways to read this book and you don't have much of a choice which one you use. You can read it as a child or you can read it as an adult. It makes for completely different reading. I'll review reading it as a youth and as an adult because I assure you it's a different experience.
As a child, this book has the magic of Peter Pan and the practicality of a school book. You hear the war stories of Sir Robert Baden-Powell; they're fascinating heroic tails of the Boer War. At that age it's unlikely that an American boy (such as myself) knows what the Boer Wars were, so the book lacks the distraction of knowing the behind the scenes (the British were liberating concentration camps...it's heavy stuff as an adult.) Instead of touching on the topics of the war itself, the book uses incidents in the war to teach heroism, selflessness, courage, and creativity. The book keeps the material light enough to enjoy at that age but is still incredibly fascinating.
As a youth, it's absolutely gripping. Later in life I learned that it was originally published in installments and due to the large demand, published as a book. I can tell you exactly why it was (and is) widely popular. The book has cool war stories. The book teaches boys how to build a shelter out of fallen branches. The book teaches boys how to track a dear from footprints and how to light a fire with no matches. It's stuff boys get into.
So to recap, as a youth, it's tails of heroism and a "how to" on neat stuff you can do when you're camping.
Here's the lowdown as an adult. Rereading the book as an adult, you can see the mastermind behind it. The man is teaching citizenship to young men. In between tales of cunning war maneuvers and how to start a camp fire, he's telling men to say please and thank you. Excerpt: "A present is not yours until you have thanked for it." Mixed in with cool camping techniques and fun war stories, this becomes fact to a young man. You don't even question the manners parts when your new hero, a Lieutenant General, is practically issuing you a command to say "please."
The book is shockingly progressive for the era. Sir Baden-Powell, as best as I can tell, has views of white/black relations that would be more than acceptable today. His views on women are only dated today to women who have a problem with men opening a door for them (sigh?)
The book is cleverly designed, which is a characteristic of the late Knight. Baden-Powell is telling young men that if they want to be like a Knight (what boy doesn't? It's like a girl wanting to be a princess.) then they need to treat women with respect. The book is rooted in timeless values and leans neither right nor left by modern standards.
This book taught me to be a useful citizen (being a useful citizen is actually the main message,) to treat women with respect, and a little bit about camping. Those things might not be popular today, but if you want your son or daughter to embrace some timeless core values, give it a look. Equally as importantly, then pick it up and read it yourself. You'll be glad you did and you'll probably be better person for it (and you probably won't be able to put it down.)