Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Roller Coaster Kid by Mary Ann Rodman

The Roller Coaster Kid by Mary Ann Rodman, illustrated by Roger Roth

Rating: 4.5 stars

Confession: I checked out this book from the library for the sole purpose of reviewing it here and attaching a video from Ben's first roller coaster ride from this past summer.  Sometimes a book leads to a story in our house; every so often a story leads to a book.  I think that's normal, right?

My plan went awry when I actually read the book for the first time--out loud, to all three kids, and barely made it through without sobbing.

Okay, let me back up.

This past summer I took my trio to Erie, Pennsylvania, where both my parents were born and raised.  We had a family-filled few days that were also sprinkled with a surprising amount of fun, including a trip to Waldameer.  I had once heard that if you want roller coaster riders as middle grade and older kids, you've got to start them young.  So, building upon the pint-sized success of a rinky-dink county fair roller coaster, they were willing to try a small roller coaster--small, but the real deal.

Brave Lorelei sat in the front seat, alone!  (I had told her this was the best, the most thrilling seat, so she wanted no other seat.  Atta girl!)  Ben and I sat behind her.  Like a normal 21st century mother, I whipped out my smartphone and took a video of his face for the first of two short laps around the track.  You can see his on-the-fence-ness, his uncertainty, his fear, and then...finally...his delight!  It's really cute.

So, to show off this video, I got this book from the library, The Roller Coaster Kid.

The book starts off innocently: Zach's grandfather earned the moniker "The Roller Coaster Kid" when he was a boy by riding the Whipper 100 times in a row.  Zach is impressed but afraid to ride it.  Every summer when he visits his grandparents in Oceanside, they do lots of fun things, including going to the park where the Whipper is still up and running.  Every summer Zach thinks he's brave enough, but as soon as he sees it, he decides next year, and he and Grandma go ride the Ferris Wheel.

"When the time is right, you'll face your fear," Grandma says.
She tells him the same thing I told Ben: "When the time is right, you'll face your fear."

Turn the page, read these words:

"Next summer comes, but everything's different.  Grandma's gone.  Forever."

I just about choked on whatever random lunch I was eating with the kids.  What?!  I hadn't expected this!  Tears immediately came to my eyes, and I tried to choke them back, barely successful.  Lorelei asked if I was okay, and I had to lie.  I'm usually pretty honest with them, but I couldn't this time.  If I had said, "I'm brought-to-my-knees saddened by the very thought of losing my mother--your one and only Grammy."

Grammy is, blessedly, healthy and strong, fit and capable--more than most 60-something year olds.  My kids think everyone dies when they're about 100, so they don't think about and don't need to think about their beloved Grammy dying sooner!  My tears were irrational, but real.  She is just such a big part of my life that very thought of losing her makes me incredibly sad.

I really need to read books first before I read them out loud.  Haven't I learned this by now?!

Counseled by his parents, Zach doesn't bring up his own sadness. He chokes it back instead.  He tries to cheer up his clearly sad Grandpa, and he finally decides that a ride on the Whipper will do the trick.  So he does it.  With Grandpa beside him.  He has fun, but when they step off, Grandpa is still his new blue self.

Until Zach blurts out loud, "I miss Grandma.  She'd have said I was brave.  For riding the Whipper.  For facing my fears."

Those are the words that get to his grandfather, the one that helps snap him back to reality a little bit.

I love that the courage Zach shows in showing his emotions, and telling Grandpa his honest feelings is bigger than the courage he shows in riding that roller coaster.  We so often applaud one sort of bravery but not the other, especially in boys.

And I will go back to appreciating my mom, my kids' Grammy, even more; my trio and I will do the Lucky Me dance because we don't have to miss her.


  1. Wow...that was a great review, tears and all. (Somehow, without my trying, somebody dies in almost all my books!0 As a former school librarian I also learned to pre-read books before sharing. But thank you. You really GOT what I was trying to say.

    1. I loved the book, and appreciated the message. Your comment warms me on a cold, drizzly day. Thank YOU.

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