Villa Inspiring a New Christmas Tradition
Branford children's author Leesan Villa's first picture book, The Angel on Top of the Tree, is a story of faith and family. The story of how this mom of four came to write her book, which led to establishing her publishing company, is one of faith and family, too.
"I've had this book in my head since 1994," says Leesan, who grew up on New York's lower east side and moved to Branford with her husband Scott 10 years ago.
In 1994, Leesan spent Christmas in New York with her family.
"I'm 15 years older than my brother; he was five. We got back to the apartment and the puppy had opened his own presents-just his presents! My brother was amazed. I said, 'You know what, it was the angel on top of the tree! She said, "'Marx, don't do it!'" It became a family story."
For Leesan, who celebrates the Catholic faith, the story evolved and deepened over the years, especially as the Villas began raising their family: Carlos (now 11 years old), Gabriel (8), Presley (6), and one year-old Olivia Lee.
"I thought about what the angel sees. Every year when she goes on top of the tree, she sees a year's full of changes in an instant: a new baby, a different home," explains Leesan.
In the story, the angel also experiences sadness. One year, the little dog Marx, whom she's watched over, chided, and guided for many a Christmas, is gone.
"The angel goes through this depression because the dog's not there. He was her friend through all those years," says Leesan.
Saddened, the angel's light (warmly conveyed throughout by the rich illustrations of Connecticut artist Barbara Haeger) dims for several years.
"That depression was almost like that for me," says Leesan. "I spent all my Christmases together with my father and when he passed away, it took years…to feel that Christmas joy again, when the family's together."
The angel's light returns when she's placed on top of the tree to see a new baby girl looking up at her, clapping with delight.
"It helps kids realize it's okay to be sad, just keep the faith. You can't give up the faith that things are going to get better. That's what Christmas is about, a little baby being born that changed the world. It's not about stuff. It's about being with each other," says Leesan.
Leesan's husband encouraged her to sit down and write the story in January. She found Haeger via the Internet and the two worked together to create a 62-page book with prose neatly fit into double-page artwork.
Once they had a finished product, "I had a publisher interested," says Leesan. "But they wanted to cut the book in half."
The publisher also didn't recommend keeping the paintings, done in oils, for commercial publication.
"I wanted all the pages and the oil paintings-they're beautiful!" says Leesan, adding she wanted to imbue the publication with the qualities of a "Christmas classic" for families to treasure and share each year.
"I was so sad when I left the publisher's" office, says Leesan. "My husband said, 'We'll start our own company.'"
Within months, Leesan founded her publishing company, The Blue Ring, and enlisted a printer. The hardcover book's first printing arrived two months ago and to date more than 600 copies have sold. Leesan has also donated copies to Branford's Blackstone and Willoughby Wallace libraries. On Nov. 28 (after press time) she was scheduled to appear on WTNH Channel 8's CT Style to spread the word about the story of The Angel on Top of the Tree.
"Each year, I hope families will take the book out to read and reflect on the meaning of Christmas, and talk about family and about changes. I want it to be a tradition."
The Angel on Top of the Tree is available now at Branford Book & Card and P.S. Fine Stationers, through the Branford Knights of Columbus/St. Mary's Holiday fundraiser and at www.theangelontopofthetree.com. Leesan Villa will be at Timeless Home Consignment in Clinton on Sunday, Dec. 4 from 1 to 3 p.m. for a book-signing in support of the Christmas in Clinton local shopping campaign.