The sun may be the hub of the solar system, but for a Sudbury family, the radiant centre of their world is a son.
Not yet three years old, Everett Cacciotti spent his first three months in hospital and has already undergone three operations for a congenital heart defect.
The first occurred mere moments after he was born; the third was just last week.
On Monday, the intrepid toddler remained in SickKids hospital, recuperating from the latest open-heart procedure.
“There were a couple of complications but the surgery itself was a success,” said father Kristofer.
As he was speaking with The Star from Toronto, the dad got news that Everett had just overcome one of the lingering glitches to his recovery, bringing even more relief and optimism.
Kristofer said he and wife Lesley, along with four-year-old daughter Zoey, feel deeply indebted to the doctors and staff at SickKids and have made several efforts to give back since Everett was brought — against significant odds — into the world.
In 2018 they staged an EV FEST music fundraiser at the home of Kristofer’s parents in Azilda, raising $34,000 for the world-class pediatric facility. Last year another $25,000 was gifted through an awards event held by the Sudbury Sunrisers Rotary Club, of which Kristofer is a member.
“SickKids saved Everett’s life,” said the dad. “So it’s not even as much that I want to help them — it’s more that I feel like it’s my duty, that I’m bound to the universe to do this. My karmic balance will forever be lopsided, so I’m trying to even that up in some way.”
The latest contribution comes in the form of a children’s book that Kristofer penned and recently published, with a portion of sales pledged to the Toronto hospital.
My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas takes young readers on a journey through space, visiting the sun and each of the planets.
Kristofer said the title comes from a phrase teachers used when he was a kid — as an acronym, it helps students memorize the name of each planet, in order of their distance from the sun, Mercury to Pluto.
The first-time author dedicated the book to both his children: “firecracker” Zoey and fighter Everett, whom he describes as “a constant inspiration to us and a reminder that no challenge is insurmountable.”
There’s a lot of useful science packed into the 24-page book but its language is more playful than pedantic.
Venus, for instance, is often called its “Earth’s sister,” the book notes, albeit with a catch. “She looks beautiful from far away. But you wouldn’t want to kiss her.”
(Venus is not only brutally hot, the author goes on to explain, but has unbreathable air.)
While Kristofer had never tried this kind of writing before, he got a feel for it through all the books he and Lesley have shared with their own kids.
“We’ve read them hundreds and I’ve always been drawn to books I enjoy reading — where I enjoy the story and the rhyming pattern,” he said. “Lesley and I always joked that we should write a children’s book, so it was kind of in the back of my head.”
My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas actually had its first incarnation as a rap song, Kristofer said, meant to appear in video form on an educational YouTube channel that he and a friend were developing.
That project didn’t materialize, so he decided to turn the lyrics into a book — hiring an illustrator through an online freelancing hub and engaging local graphic designer Sherri Lavigne, formerly of the Sudbury Star, for editing and layout help.
“It’s written in a way that the rhyming pattern and flow are fun enough that you can read it to a three-year-old, and an eight- to 10-year-old can read it to actually learn about space,” he said. “So it has a pretty broad range.”
Everett is just two-and-a-half, with a limited vocabulary, so concepts like the stratosphere and sulphuric acid are still a bit much for him to grasp (hey, some of us adults struggle with this kind of stuff), yet even he has already given the book an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
“The day I got it from the printers, I cracked open a box and read it to him right away,” said his dad. “And when I was done he asked me to read it again.”
Kristofer had an initial run of 500 books printed and has already sold close to half. The more he can sell, the more money he can share with SickKids.
So he’s hoping others in Sudbury and beyond will take an interest in the tome for tots.