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Children’s book relives memories from Tennessee fest

By HOLLY VIERS
Kingsport Times-News
KINGSPORT (AP) — In a world without COVID-19, the Model City would have been bustling with activity this week, thanks to Fun Fest. But as everyone knows, things turned out differently this year.
Fun Fest organizers have been calling 2020 the year of “Un Fest” and even selling commemorative T-shirts to mark the festival’s hiatus. Even though this year’s festival was canceled, people can still reminisce about Fun Fests of old.
That’s what local author and literacy advocate Leigh Anne Hoover is helping people do by promoting her children’s book “Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites.” Written in 2010, the book highlights some of the festival’s most beloved events and encourages families to talk about their own Fun Fest experiences.
“Even though we have the novel coronavirus pandemic right now, we’re not going to let that keep us from enjoying the memories,” Hoover said, “because they’re still right there, alive and still in that book, waiting to be enjoyed again.”
Hoover graduated from Clemson, where she studied secondary education and communications. She spent her entire career working in media, and it was after covering the Santa Train one year that she got the idea for her first children’s book, “The Santa Train Tradition.”
A few years later in 2010, Hoover decided to write another children’s book about Fun Fest to coincide with the festival’s 30th anniversary celebration. Her husband helped inspire the story, as he had once served as the festival’s familiar mascot, Festus.
“My husband, Brad, had actually been a past chair of Fun Fest in 1999,” Hoover said, “and during that year, he wore the Festus outfit, and he saw the festival through the eyes of Festus. … That’s how this little book came about.”
Hoover has also written a few books for adults, including “Reading with Ralph,” which is about her literacy student, and “For Better or For Worse … Unless Annulment Comes First,” a Christian memoir.
Hoover said she’s heard many people refer to “Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites” as a “virtual postcard” for Kingsport. A winner of both regional and international pinnacle awards, the book is not only about the festival. It also highlights several landmarks people can visit in the city.
“What families can do together is they can read the book, and they can go and see and do these things,” Hoover said. “This year is limited with this being the ‘Un Fest’ year, but the book actually has events that people can talk about with memories. And reading, especially reading aloud, is one of the best gifts that you can give a child and share as a family.”
The book takes readers on a trip down memory lane, featuring well-known events like the Crazy Cardboard Boat Race, Ice Cream at Allandale, The Taste and the Hot Air Balloon Glow.
“When you’ve had a festival that’s been around as long as Fun Fest … chances are, people and families have done some of these things together,” Hoover said. “That was the reason for the title, ‘Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites,’ because even though some of them are no longer around, like the Ice Cream at Allandale, for instance, people fondly remember doing that.”
A portion of the proceeds from her books benefits the Literacy Council of Kingsport, Hoover added.
Hoover is now working on her first inspirational novel, called “Blue Blood.”
“I have been working on it for several years now,” Hoover said. “I have finished the first draft, but … once you do that first draft, that’s when the work really starts, because I’ve been rewriting and honing the craft and taking additional fiction writing classes, because it’s a whole new genre.”