Leigh Anne W. Hoover is the author of The Santa Train Tradition and Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites, and is a native of South Carolina and a graduate of Clemson University. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in secondary education/English and a minor in general communications, Leigh Anne has worked for over 25 years in the media, has extensive writing and public relations experience in the region, and has published articles encompassing personality and home profiles, arts and entertainment reviews, medical topics, and weekend escape pieces.
Before we dive into the Q and A, let me share with you what others are saying about Leigh Anne’s work:
“It is so important to bring accurate facts and details to light in an amusing, poignant manner to inspire children’s creative minds. Leigh Anne Hoover does both in The Santa Train Tradition as she describes an actual event in her community. Leigh Anne is as warm and engaging as her books.”
–Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author for adults and children
“I believe strongly that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a love of reading. Leigh Anne Hoover’s children’s books incorporate historical fiction to exemplify how community bonds can also connect children to actual events and tie them to literacy. Reading aloud instills this while also creating special one-on-one time with your child.”
–Nancy Samalin, MS, Parent Guidance Workshops parenting speaker, author, and pioneer in the field of parent education
Q) Leigh Anne, tell us about the inspiration for you book, The Santa Train Tradition, why you wanted to capture the story in a children’s work, and how much history is behind this amazing event.
A) Since 1943, the Santa Train has been winding its way through the mountains of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, distributing over 15 tons of donated gifts, toys, candies, and clothing from individuals and organizations across the United States. This year marked the 70th running of the Santa Special.
Beginning in Shelby, Kentucky, the Santa Train travels 110 miles making 13 stops in route to its final destination in Kingsport, Tennessee, for the annual Christmas parade. Some stops are in small train stations in places with comical names like “Toms Bottom.”
The Santa Train originated as a way for Kingsport, Tennessee, to thank the surrounding region for their continued patronage. As a shared program of the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, CSX Transportation, Inc., Food City, and Dignity U Wear, gifts are collected throughout the year, and the train always runs on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Many heard of the Santa Train through an “On the Road” segment with the late Charles Kuralt. The train has been featured in numerous other television specials, articles, and even on the front page of the New York Times, which prompted gifts and donations from all over the world.
Since then, many country music stars, including Patty Loveless, Alison Krauss, Travis Tritt, Kathy Mattea, and Naomi and Wynonna Judd, and Thompson Square have been celebrity guests on the Santa Train.
Several years ago, I was able to ride the Santa Train as a journalist. I was writing an article for US Airways Magazine, but it was only about the facts. When I got off the Santa Train, I talked to the people. I spoke with grandparents who remembered coming to the Santa Train when they were children and parents who were now bringing their children. These were the “real stories” of the train, and I knew then that what I had learned would be much more than just an article. I just didn’t know what…
Q) Remarkable! These real stories impacted you in a pretty profound way. Share how you began to create the book, what your expectations were when you first began this project, and how the process unfolded, including any stumbling blocks or miraculous moments.
A) Along with the facts, I knew that the people’s story had to be told. So, I incorporated an imaginary family that could be representative of what I had heard and what was shared with me. From there, I wove the facts in as a journalist for accuracy.
I searched local publishers and thought that I would end up with one that had done some regional books that included children’s literature. During this process, I stumbled upon the person who would become my artist.
Carol Bates Murray is from Marion, Virginia, and The Santa Train Tradition is actually her eighth published children’s book. Carol does everything the old fashioned way. Each page is an individual watercolor painting, and when I am in schools, I share some of the actual pages with the children. Before we even read the first word, children tell me how a particular original painting makes them feel. In sharing the paintings, this also connects them to another art form and truly depicts the job of an illustrator.
Other than connecting to reading, the most important goal for me was for this little book to also give back— just like the Santa Train. So, we approached our regional grocery store chain, Food City, which also happens to sponsor the Santa Train, about partnering. For the first three years, the hardback book was sold exclusively in their stores along the train route throughout the holidays.
My hope was that a donation could be made to the Santa Train Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a graduating high school senior along the route. I never imagined that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the $11.99 hardback book would be donated by Food City Grocery. To date, this amount is over $10,000, and the sale of the book also benefits the Literacy Council of Kingsport.
Q) Above and beyond your hopes, that’s awesome, Leigh Anne! I want to shift a bit to another topic. You began writing this piece as an article, yet it became a stand-alone book. When you consider your publishing experience both with this book and your second one, Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites, what advice would you offer to other writers, and what suggestions would you make about marketing books?
A) Many are familiar with the beautiful children’s book Silver Packages by the very prolific writer, Cynthia Rylant. It’s about a train that runs through the Appalachian Mountains each year with a rich old man dressed in a green blazer who gives out packages wrapped in silver. The book is actually loosely based on our Santa Train, yet I never knew about this book.
The text does not mention the Santa Train or CSX Transportation because both are actually protected with a copyright. If had known about this little book, I would have never attempted mine. I would have assumed that if Cynthia Rylant had not written about the actual Santa Train, there would be no way that I could!
However, I prayerfully forged ahead with the endeavor. CSX not only required seeing the manuscript before agreeing, but they also had to approve the illustrations. Once I found myself working with the CSX legal department, we hired an attorney just to make sure that everything was handled correctly.
I have been taking my program into schools. In addition to sharing my little book, I talk to the children about the history of the Santa Train, and we also talk about how many volunteers help pack the train and the actual sponsors of the Santa Train. The book has been an excellent way to connect children to research based, factual information and to share volunteerism and literacy.
In 2010, I was honored to be a presenter at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) Conference, and my program was titled, “Connecting to the Community through Literacy.”
My second children’s book, Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites, celebrates an over 30-year summer tradition in Kingsport, Tennessee, and the story is told through the eyes of the festival mascot, Festus. Festus takes readers through a week of Fun Fest and looks at events both past and present.
With this little book, Food City partnered again on a smaller scale, and proceeds have benefitted Fun Fest, which is a program of the Kingsport Chamber Foundation, and also the Literacy Council of Kingsport (LCK). In fact, the book won a regional public relations Pinnacle award and two International Festivals & Events Association Pinnacle Awards.
I serve as a past president of LCK, and I am also an adult volunteer tutor. I know firsthand that one of our adult students was able to “pretend read” my book to his child, and this connected them in a way that they had never experienced together in the past.
In fact, I am currently writing my third book, Reading with Ralph – A Journey in Christian Compassion, which is an adult book that sheds light on illiteracy. As you know, Roxie, the key is connecting. There are many “keys” that we can use to open the literacy door. However, we need to be mindful of which one will open it for our communities, our adults, and our children.
It’s important to also become a marketing professional and utilize every avenue, including local television and radio talk shows and various available speaking engagements, to tout your book and talk about your passion.
For me, partnering with a regional grocery store chain, and making sure that a portion of the proceeds could benefit education/literacy, was the perfect marketing opportunity. It truly created something that others could identify with and feel passionate about.
As writers, together, we are all connecting to reading. When we are also passionate, we are truly creating a lasting literacy legacy!
You are so right, Leigh Anne! You are an inspiration, and your suggestions to connect writing with education and literacy are spot-on. Thanks for sharing this wonderful project and your time with us.
Purchase Leigh Anne’s Books at
The Santa Train runs on the Saturday before Thanksgiving…view a video of November 17, 2012 trip:
More about Leigh Anne Hoover: She’s done extensive features including one-on-one interviews with actress Andie MacDowell, artists Bob Timberlake and P. Buckley Moss, author Jan Karon, Grammy-winner, singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins, and Clemson University President James F. Barker. Hoover currently serves on the Clemson University Parents’ Development Board and the Literacy Council of Kingsport and Friends of Allandale board of directors. She is also a past president of the Literacy Council of Kingsport, the Junior League of Kingsport and past co-chair of the Clemson University Parents’ Development Board. Hoover is a member of First Broad Street United Methodist Church, and she volunteers as an adult reading tutor. She and her husband, Brad, reside in Kingsport, and they have two adult children.