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‘Reading with Ralph:’ Tutoring sessions turn into ministry, lead to book

September 1st, 2013 8:14 am by Marci Gore

‘Reading with Ralph:’ Tutoring sessions turn into ministry, lead to book

In ‘Reading With Ralph,’ Leigh Anne W. Hoover shares the humorous and heartwarming stories she has of her time tutoring Ralph. Photo by Pam Cox.

Leigh Anne W. Hoover says when an adult student named Ralph first came to the Literacy Council of Kingsport for tutoring, he was only reading at a first-grade level. 

Hoover and others at the Literacy Council have spent nearly seven years working with Ralph, who is now reading above a sixth-grade level.

But Hoover says her time with Ralph has turned into far more than just tutoring sessions.

Author of the children’s books “The Santa Train Tradition” and “Festus and His Fun Fest Favorites,” Hoover has ventured into a new genre, publishing her first adult non-fiction novel, “Reading With Ralph  — A Journey in Christian Compassion,” where she shares some of the many humorous and heartwarming stories she has of her time with Ralph. “Reading With Ralph” is published by Jan-Carol Publishing. 

“While tutoring Ralph, he and I have gotten so connected over the years. Throughout our journey  — and it has been a journey  — we have had so many different stories between us,” Hoover said. “I would share those stories with people and then it ended up people would come to me and say, ‘Tell me what’s going on with Ralph. I know you have another story.’ So, I, in turn, would just journal little notes about my stories. You know how people tell you, ‘You’d better write those things down because you’re going to forget!’ You don’t think you will, but you do forget. People started telling me that this was my next book. I never intended for these stories to be a book. But the more I started thinking about it and the more people encouraged me, I thought, ‘Well, maybe.’ But I put it on the back burner. It really took years of coming together, and Ralph and I getting to know each other better, before I even felt comfortable doing it.”

Hoover said she knew it would have to be an adult Christian book with a twofold purpose  — to shine a light on illiteracy and to share the message of God’s love.

Before Ralph walked into the Literacy Council office, Hoover says she had seen him sitting in front of her for several Sundays at First Broad Street United Methodist Church.

In her book, Hoover writes about her first impression of Ralph, who had faced many challenges and difficulties throughout his life, and admits working with him required her to step out of her comfort zone.

“Ralph was different and even somewhat frightening. Due to a cleft palate, which had been repaired with a metal plate, and limited hearing, he was always on guard and on the defensive, and he looked mad at the world. At some point, I realized this man was the person I had noticed at church,” she writes.

However, after Hoover got to know him better, she said she realized there was more to Ralph than meets the eye.

“Yes, I was afraid of him at first, but he is such a kind soul that I realized that everything he does on a normal, daily basis, because he lives in such a different type of world, he is very guarded and what he’s doing is just a total self-protection mode. It’s survival on his part,” she said.

Hoover says her weekly sessions with Ralph eventually evolved into a ministry, and she says she feels that Ralph was put in her path for a reason.

“There are things in your life, if you will just step back from them, you can see where God’s hand has been involved. And sometimes that puzzle really begins to come together. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until you’re years down the road. When you’re in the moment, you don’t really see the big picture,” she said. “I want this book to be a teaching tool. I want people to know that what we do for people is not necessarily happening inside the church itself.”

And now, Hoover says, Ralph has worked his way into not just her heart, but the hearts of her husband, Brad, and their children, Jennifer and Bradley. He has also gained the affections of the Hoovers’  — and now Ralph’s  — Sunday school class, the Inquirers, at First Broad UMC.

Hoover’s new book is available just in time for a cause near and dear to her heart  — International Literacy Day. According to the International Reading Association, International Literacy Day, observed annually on Sept. 8, focuses attention on worldwide literacy needs. Worldwide, more than 774 million adults  — nearly two-thirds of whom are women —  do not know how to read or write, and roughly 123 million children lack those same skills, and are often denied any access to education.

“If people only realized when you can find a book, or an author, that you share an interest with, whatever genre it might be, reading can be such a powerful force in our lives. And it’s available to us, really at no cost, because of libraries,” Hoover said.

Hoover is a native of South Carolina and a graduate of Clemson University.  “Reading With Ralph” is endorsed by the President of Clemson University James F. Barker and Clemson Head Football Coach Dabo Swinney. Additional endorsements include New York Times bestselling authors Mary Alice Monroe and Patti Callahan Henry and several others. The Literacy Council of Kingsport utilizes “The Laubach Way to Reading,” and Hoover’s book contains a foreword written by Dr. Robert Laubach, whose late father, Dr. Frank Laubach, developed “The Laubach Way to Reading.”

For more information on Hoover or how to purchase her book , visit her Facebook page or

“Reading With Ralph  — A Journey in Christian Compassion” is available for purchase on

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