Weston Forum (in full)

When Mary Louise Santacaterina of Weston was growing up, every Christmas her parents would tell her and her sisters a special poem in order to lull them to sleep.

The poem was about the adventures of a chocolate cat, a gingerbread dog, and a magical sugar plum tree where the most delicious candy would grow.

Sisters Karen Parkell, Susan DeAngelis, and Mary Louise Santacaterina of Weston wrote the children’s book The Sugar Plum Tree, based on their family’s storytelling tradition.

Sisters Karen Parkell, Susan DeAngelis, and Mary Louise Santacaterina of Weston wrote the children’s book The Sugar Plum Tree, based on their family’s storytelling tradition.

When the girls woke up the next morning, they would find little candy treats under their beds — proof that the magic of the sugar plum tree had worked!

In an effort to memorialize their family’s special tradition, the sisters decided to update the poem, write it in their own words, and publish it.

The result is the colorful hardcover book The Sugar Plum Tree, available for purchase at Lang’s Pharmacy in Weston Center, Swirl Ice Cream in Georgetown, The Candy Scoop in New Canaan, and online at thesugarplumtree.com.

The poem was inspired by the works of Eugene Field, a 19th-Century children’s poet. The book’s whimsical illustrations were done by Jan Dolby.

“The theme of the story is that dreams can come true,” said Ms. Santacaterina from her Weston home.

She remembers first hearing the poem at her family’s home in Illinois, where she grew up. It was reserved for special occasions, particularly around Christmastime.

As the girls grew older they became very popular as babysitters by telling the poem to their young charges, and planting little treats for them under their beds.

“One of the great things about this poem is that the magic doesn’t end when you grow up, because you get to recite it and pass it along to the next generation,” Ms. Santacaterina said.


The book took about four years to produce, with Ms. Santacaterina in Weston collaborating with her sisters, Karen Parkell in Texas, and Susan DeAngelis in Florida.

p1-SugarPlum_Book12.5“It was initially Susan’s idea to write the book. We are a big ‘dream’ family, we dream a lot — and in color,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

The idea initially languished for a bit until Ms. Santacaterina had a dream about turning the poem into a book. “I couldn’t stop dreaming about it. I said, ‘We need to do this and get this done,’” she said.

The women talked about the project with their cousins, who were also purveyors of the poem. “Everyone said to go for it,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

So the women put together seed money for the project, and came up with a business plan for the book. They decided to create their own publishing company, LilyLu & TT2 Publishing, to maintain creative control over the process.

The company’s name is derived from the women’s nicknames. “Lily is Susan’s nickname, Lu is my nickname, and TT is Karen’s nickname,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

The Sugar Plum Tree’s author, Katherine James, is a collective pen name, a combination of their parents’ middle names. “We wanted to acknowledge our parents because they were the ones that created this family tradition,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

Divided work

The women divided the work on the book. Since Ms. DeAngelis is the “visual” sister, she oversaw the book’s illustration and the book’s overall layout.

Ms. Santacaterina, who has a degree in creative writing and is a freelance journalist, handled the writing and pulled the words together.

Ms. Parkell, who Ms. Santacaterina said is not an especially creative person, got the “gavel” and authority to say yes or no to everything.

“The project took us four long years. Sometimes we needed a break and wouldn’t talk to each other for a month. We each had our part, and it never would have come together without all of us working together. Our cousins were great and gave us feedback before the book was published,” Ms. Santacaterina said.

Ms. Santacaterina and her husband, Paul, moved to Weston eight years ago. They have three children, Maria, Donald and Sofia, who continue the poem’s family tradition.

She hopes others will be inspired by The Sugar Plum Tree and will memorialize their own family traditions on paper.

“One of the goals for LilyLu & TT2 Publishing is that we can someday be large enough to publish other people’s family traditions in book form,” she said. “Our company’s tagline is ‘Sharing one tradition at a time.’ That’s our dream.”

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