By LIZ BARNARD, Four Points News
Two River Place friends teamed to author and publish a book on the Austin holiday tradition of decorating trees along Hwy 360. Proceeds from book sales go to help Down syndrome research.
Marilyn Cole, a retired elementary school teacher, and Allie McCann, became fast friends through a fitness class. They bonded throughout McCann’s pregnancy four plus years ago at the same time Cole awaited the arrival of her grandchild.
Once McCann’s daughter, Stella, was born, she was diagnosed with Down syndrome. Cole was kind, accepting, and encouraging with the news.
Not long after that, Cole handed McCann a handwritten story inspired by Stella’s story, wrapped in a box with a red bow. The retired teacher told McCann the idea for the book popped in her head as she was coming home on 360.
“I started reading it and immediately tears came to my eyes,” McCann remembers. “It is such a sweet story, and in this day and age, who gives a gift like this out of the blue? Before I was even done reading it, I looked at Marilyn and said, “We should publish this for charity.’”
Cole loved the idea.
“Down syndrome research is disproportionately under-funded compared to other genetic conditions and diseases and I knew I wanted to do something about it,” McCann said. And this seemed like the right fit.
Stella and the Little Tree celebrates Austin’s holiday tradition of decorating trees along Highway 360, with a fundraising goal for Down syndrome research. The story is about a little tree that is left undecorated year after year, while the other trees receive much decoration, until a girl named Stella decides to decorate him.
Angela Karam, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin, illustrated the book. She also lives in the Four Points area. The illustrations are full of bright colors and endearing images.
Karam explains, “My goal was to capture the unique beauty of the Texas Hill Country and its notable cedar trees in my illustrations. I wanted everyone to see how distinctive our Hill Country is and how festive it looks when people decorate the trees along the side of the road.”
One of Stella’s classmates, who also has Down syndrome, had a cousin who was an artist, which is how McCann met Karam.
“I was thrilled that she lived close, was familiar with the holiday tradition of decorating trees on 360, and had a connection to Down syndrome. When I met her and saw her work, I was convinced that she was perfect for the project,” McCann said. In addition to Stella who turns 4 next month, she and her husband Dave have Mike, 10, and Cate, 6.
Funded and initiated by McCann, the project’s profits will go directly to the Down Syndrome Research Treatment Foundation, granting money to researchers looking for treatments to help those affected.
“Research could lead to a 15 percent increase in cognition, which could make a huge difference in the life of someone with Downs syndrome,” she added.
“I love the underlying message in this book that everything (everyone) has a gift/purpose/value in this world. I want to create awareness for people with Down syndrome in that regard. They have talents, gifts, and value just like anyone else,” she added.
Author Cole is also excited about the potential of this book too.
“I think Allie is going to make a difference in the quality of life for Down syndrome children and adults,” Cole said.
The book is currently available for sale through www.StellaandtheLittleTree.com and via www.Amazon.com.