September 10, 2001 12:00 PM

The Touched by an Angel star could have used some heavenly guidance herself when she was trying to explain her divorce to her 5-year-old daughter Reilly. After her 1998 split with director David Anspaugh, Downey, 41, would leave her daughter with an intermediary for Daddy to pick up. “One day,” says Downey, “Reilly came across a picture of her daddy and me together and said, ‘Mom, you know my dad?’ ”

Frustrated by the dearth of children’s books about divorce, Downey wrote one herself on the set of Angel, which is about to start its eighth season on CBS. Illustrated by Justine Gasquet, Love Is a Family (ReganBooks, $16.95) tells the story of a little girl named Lily who longs to have a big family instead of just a mom. “I wanted to write it for children in situations that are nontraditional,” said the Irish-born Downey, who was raised by her father after her mother died of a heart attack.

The book’s message, says Downey, is that “love is what makes a family, not the number of people in it.” She has little time for a book tour, but she has a captive audience: “Even if nobody else reads the book,” Downey says, “I have to read it to Reilly.”

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