My children and I have been reading books together at bedtime since they were babies. Only my youngest son, Andy, and I are still at it. We're now reading a book that was first published more than 50 years ago, but it's one of our favorites.
"Eddie and Gardenia," by Carolyn Haywood, is one of a series of books that tell the simple story of the daily adventures of a 10-year-old boy. They're dated, but my son doesn't notice the lack of televisions, computers, and cellphones in them. Instead, he gives a sincere laugh out loud when Eddie uses funny expressions – words like "jeepers" and "swell" – to punctuate his sentences.
We both laugh at Eddie's antics, whether he's sneaking cookies from the kitchen counter, letting a pet snake loose in the house, or buying "valuable property" at a local yard sale – activities that haven't changed as much as you might think in half a century.
I've explained to Andy that the books were written a long time ago. We've talked about the changes in daily life over the years that are obvious – at least to me.
When Eddie's mom telephones and addresses another mother as "Mrs. Williams," it sounds stiff and unnatural to me. My children's friends call me by my first name.
As we read, we've had to make adjustments for inflation, too. When one of the books mentions the $12 Eddie earned collecting newspapers, I explained that that was a lot of money for a kid in those days.
But those are really small accommodations for a half century of progress.
Why doesn't my son, who watches some TV every day, notice that Eddie doesn't even own a television?
It passes right over his head that Eddie rides city buses alone and doesn't seem worried about talking to strangers.
My son knows how to program his iPod and download songs from the Internet. Why doesn't he notice that Eddie never listens to popular music?
Haywood's books reflect a more innocent time. At times, her vision of suburban family life is so ideal, I'm not sure it ever existed. The parents in the books seldom raise their voices, not even when confronted with a can of house paint spilling onto the kitchen counter.
The mothers never scream: "Turn down that music!" or "Hurry up, we're late for basketball practice!" Children who wander away are walked safely home by the mailman. Dinner is always cheerfully gobbled up.
But these examples aside, much of the content still rings true.
One episode my son particularly enjoyed involved Eddie trying to hide from a neighbor girl who was knocking on his back door, wanting him to play.
As Eddie's mom opens the kitchen door and invites the girl in, Eddie ducks under the table to hide. As the rest of the family eats breakfast, Eddie stays trapped under the table, starving, until his father passes him pancakes, one at a time.
Andy laughed out loud at Eddie's predicament because he has two neighbor pals of his own who knock on our door several times a day. So he empathized completely with Eddie, who wanted to dodge the friend and still enjoy breakfast.
That's part of the timeless quality of these books.
Few people have direct experience with Victorian England, yet no one questions the literary value of Charles Dickens.
Do you have to know the Mississippi River to read Mark Twain?
We feel the same way about Haywood's books, including "Eddie and the Fire Engine," published in 1949.
Our local library has a section of dusty, yellowing old books culled from yard sales, private donations, and school library rejects that they patronizingly call the "historical collection."
Happily for my family – and other readers – many of Haywood's original volumes reside there.
And we're reading our way through her books, dragging Eddie along with us into the 21st century.