Mike Anderson started looking like Santa Claus a long time ago. While attending Illinois College, his electric razor broke. Santa didn’t bring him a new one and he couldn’t afford a replacement; so he grew a beard.
He became MR. Anderson at Eisenhower Elementary. Teaching lower elementary students, being a bit chubby and having a beard made becoming a Santa surrogate a given.
As he moved through his 40-year teaching career, the grey hair came, the beard got longer, and the chubby remained. Having added children’s performer to his resume, particularly with the Jacksonville classic cassette The Cat Came Back, recorded live at the Jacksonville Public Library, he began to get the question about when he would begin playing Santa Claus. The position was declined.
As the years rolled on and he began to perform nationally, children around the country began to notice his resemblance and the question got more frequent. The answer never changed. Being a musician, storyteller and singer and nearing the end of his teaching career, Mr. Anderson toyed with the idea of becoming a storytelling Santa Claus who didn’t deal with the gift question. The problem was the beard. It was gray, not white. Besides dye, he could find no way to make it white and touchable (kids touch real-beard Santas’ beards.) Another unusable good idea.
After retiring from third grade, Mike did a stint in Kindergarten. The Kindergarteners were pretty sure he WAS Santa. They also thought it was a dirty trick to make Santa one of their teachers. A couple of years later, Mr. Anderson was in second grade. A marvelous second-grade girl named Riley walked up to him one October day.
“Mr. Anderson, I know you aren’t Santa,” she said. She had been positive he was when she was in Kindergarten. “You’re his brother!”
Hugo Kringle came to life. As Santa’s little brother, the beard didn’t have to be white and he could just tell stories and sing songs.
The 2017 Christmas season will be Hugo’s fourth. Hugo has performed for thousands of children in five states and across Taiwan. Mike Anderson wrote several stories about growing up with the boy who would become Santa and numerous children’s holiday songs. The stories have been featured on radio and the songs have been recorded and released on a CD entitled Christmas Songs.
Last year, the first picture book appeared: The Magic Bag. It highlights how Santa got the bag that holds so much. It was very popular and enjoyed brisk sales. Recently, the second book appeared: The Flying Bunnies. It goes into how the reindeer fly. Mr. Anderson says there will be six books in the series.
Mike Anderson is a seasoned writer. He has several chapter books to his credit and an entire reading series (36 books) for a South Korean educational publishing company. Both Hugo Kringle books were written by Mike Anderson and illustrated by Jacksonville’s premier artist Steven Varble. Negotiations have begun to license the books to a Taiwanese publishing company for distribution in newspapers and magazines in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
Locally, the books are available at All Occasions, Our Town Books, and Mike Anderson’s websites: www.dulcimerguy.com and www.hugokringle.com. On Friday, December 2, Our Town Books will be hosting Mike Anderson and Steve Varble at the December Gallery Hop, 5-7 pm.