Tuesday, August 21 , 2018, 9:30 pm | Fair 69º


Bill Cirone: The Power of the Printed Word

A boy with a life-threatening medical condition finds an escape in the pages of a good book, but the story doesn't end there

At a time when words on computer screens seem to be muscling out their cousins on paper, it’s nice to be reminded of the sheer power of the printed word, held in hand, to transport young minds away from the challenges that surround them.

Bill Cirone
Bill Cirone

Grant Lima, the son of Superintendent Kristin Garrison-Lima of the Blochman School District in Santa Barbara County, was diagnosed at age 2 with neuroblastoma. For years, his life was filled with operations and chemotherapy, difficult at any age. How does a young person cope with that?

One answer, it turned out, came in the form of print. When Grant was in the second grade, his teacher read to the class The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Grant loved the book.

He checked it out again and again from the library, until his great-grandmother bought him his own copy. The 525-page book features 12-year-old Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives in the walls of a Paris train station, where he takes care of the station’s clocks. It is filled with sketches of all parts of Paris.

Grant’s mother had been in touch with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Tri-Counties, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. For several years, Make-A-Wish worked with the family to determine the most meaningful wish to grant. It all came together in a magical trip to Paris, where Grant would be able to retrace many of the steps taken by his fictional hero, Hugo Cabret, visiting a train station, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Poilane Bakery and even the residence of the U.S. ambassador to France.

As excited as Grant was at the prospects of the trip, he was absolutely thrilled that the book’s author, Selznick, agreed to come to Benjamin Foxen School to meet Grant and make a presentation to his fellow students after Grant’s mother had e-mailed the author about the importance of the book to Grant’s life. Now, added to the schools Selznick has visited in Italy, England, Ireland and Scotland, he has also made a presentation in Sisquoc.

“Brian’s visit to Blochman spurred many other students at the school to read more as well, and especially his books. The students were enthralled with his reflections of his own childhood,” Grant’s mother said, adding that the library has a display featuring Selznick and his books.

Grant’s tumor remains, but it is growing much more slowly, and the recently completed trip to Paris was surely therapeutic to the spirits of the entire family. Grant was able to trace the spots he had read about and seen in sketches so many times, making his wish truly come true.

Of all the happy parts of this story, there is one more that needs to be underscored: Never doubt the amazing power of the printed word.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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