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Retired teacher reaches goal, publishes children’s book

With Christmas now in the rearview mirror, some families have started to take down their Christmas tree and remove some holiday lights.

For new author Debbie Hoven, of Alexandria, this time of year was the inspiration for her first children’s book, Light Up the Year, which was published this past fall. The book is geared for preschoolers through second-grade and leads the reader through the months of the year as seen from a string of Christmas lights that didn’t want to go back in the box after Christmas was over.

Hoven, a retired preschool and kindergarten teacher who spent most of her 40 years in education at Jack and Jill Preschool in Alexandria, Villard Elementary School in Villard and Minnewaska Elementary School in Glenwood, decided to try her luck at writing and illustrating a book after retiring in 2013.

“I always said I was going to write a book,” said Hoven. “I always thought it would be about my years as a kindergarten teacher, but it turned out to be a children’s picture book.”

Hoven’s journey toward a published book started after taking a class from Nancy Carlson, a popular and successful Minnesota author and illustrator.

“The class was in St. Paul School of Art and Design and I was the only one in the class who wasn’t an art major,” said Hoven. “I was nervous about the class but I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere.”

During her years as a teacher, Hoven read many of Carlson’s books to her students. And she had met Carlson a couple of times during an author visit at her school. Now she was working with her on a completely different level.

“Her books were an inspiration for many of the lessons we learned in class,” she said.

Hoven came up with the holiday lights idea, and Carlson encouraged Hoven to pursue her dream. She started to work on her lightbulb character and the storyline started to evolve. Over the next several months, Hoven crafted each page of the book and fine-tuned the story. Several last-minute revisions took place and then the book was off to the press.

“The hardest part of the process was the technology piece of getting my website,, up and running,” said Hoven. “I also have an author Facebook page. I enlisted the help of Kristy Fyhrie, a friend of our family and a tech school student, to help me.  I also struggled with the cover picture, as we were trying to stay away from an all-Christmas theme.  It took quite a few tries, but I got it.”

This past fall, Hoven saw the finished product for the first time. Since then, she has been appearing at book signings and visiting with groups throughout west central Minnesota.  One special stop took place in November when she returned to Minnewaska Elementary School to visit with the students and staff. She had worked with many of the staff for years and had taught many of the students in kindergarten.

“It was awesome coming back here with my book,” she smiled.

Her message to kids was similar to her teaching style — positive and encouraging. And she had a message for the children to bring back to their grandparents.

“Tell your grandparents that they can always learn something new,” said Hoven, who is the grandmother of three grandchildren, Gabe, Atti and Linnea. “And if they have a dream, they should go for it!”

What do her grandkids think of grandma’s new book?

“It was the goodest book I ever heard!” said Linnea, age 7.

“It’s great because it teaches kids all about the holidays,” said Gabe, age 9.

Debbie and her husband, Brad, live in Alexandria. In addition to working on the book, she spent her first year of retirement lending her expertise to help Butterfly Hill Nature Preschool of Alexandria, which open in the fall of 2014. She also loves substitute teaching in preschool, kindergarten and first-grade for the Minnewaska Elementary School in Glenwood.

Besides book signings, Hoven also enjoys meeting with groups, especially children.

She is also looking ahead at a second children’s book and has already started to write the story and sketch some of the drawings.

Light Up The Year is available at Cherry Street Books in Alexandria, through, and through her website (

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