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Reading 'Roller Coaster' makes a real ride come to life

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading. William Styron

Though I don’t remember the first time I read Marla Frazee’s "Roller Coaster" to my 2-year-old daughter, Kyla, the book helped create one of my most treasured memories.

"Roller Coaster" begins: "All of these people are waiting in line for the roller coaster. Most of them have ridden on lots of roller coasters. Some of them have only ridden on a roller coaster once or twice. At least one of them has never ridden on a roller coaster before. Ever."

At this point in the story, Kyla points to the nervous little girl in red at the front of the line. The girl is clasping her dad’s wrist with one hand, the other hand raising to her mouth for comfort. Other people are in line — an older couple, both hunched over at the waist; two cheerleaders, both laughing; and a weightlifter, calm and collected.

But Kyla isn’t interested in any of them. She is only interested in the first-timer in red at the front of the line.

The passengers board and the roller coaster heads down the first drop. The grandmother raises her hands, the cheerleaders scream in delight, the weightlifter puts his head in his hands. The little girl in front, who was previously terrified, is now in a state of ecstasy, eyes closed, arms spread to the sky. Coming out of the final loop, the riders let out a collective scream — a scream I act out every time.

As the ride ends, the little girl looks to her dad and says the words that always come at the end of a great ride: “AGAIN!”

I never thought much of this book until our most recent trip to Disneyland. We met Rapunzel, rode Mickey's Fun Wheel and ate at Flo's V8 Diner. We watched shows, played in water and bought souvenirs. But there was only one moment during our entire trip when I saw Kyla in a state of uninhibited ecstasy: on the roller coaster.

If not for Frazee’s book, I doubt Kyla would have even dared to set foot on the ride. But not only did she get on, she screamed in delight from beginning to end. She knew what to expect — she had experienced a roller coaster in her mind a dozen times — and had placed herself in the shoes of that little girl in red and overcome her own fears.

It’s no surprise that those who read fiction tend to display more empathy than those who don’t, as detailed in a New York Times article by Annie Paul Murphy. In the words of George R.R. Martin, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

As the coaster raced down that first drop, I pulled out my camera just in time to capture Kyla’s elation. And moments later when Kyla realized the ride was coming to an end, she finally let out her first intelligible word: “Nooooooooooooo!”

As we climbed out of the cart, Kyla looked at me, her eyes shining, and said the word that I knew was coming: “AGAIN!”

Nate Meikle is writing a memoir called "Little Miss: a father, his daughter and rocket science," which describes how he taught his 2-year-old daughter to read. Nate writes about his experiences at