Sam Baker looks forward to publishing his latest book and turning 100

At 99, Sam Baker is well into his latest career as a children’s book author. His first book, published in 2018, The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm, was based on a bedtime story he would make up for his children Sally and Michael.

Sam was working for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, stationed at Cape Canaveral, and once a month, he would have to travel to inspect the tracking devices. While he was gone, his wife would read the children bedtime stories. When Sam returned, the kids would not let Sam read a book; he had to tell them a story.

One of the kid’s favorites was based on a true story from Sam’s childhood.  Sam’s father was a farmer, and when he was about 10, he would collect caterpillars (he would call worms) off the dill plants in the garden. He would put them in a box and feed them, and then when they emerged as swallowtail butterflies, he would take them outside, and they would fly away.

This story became one of his children’s favorites. “I told it to the children, and they learned it well, and both would correct me when I made a mistake. They would not let me pick up from the previous night’s story. I had to start at the beginning every time,” remembers Sam. “When my granddaughter was born, my son called and said, ‘Now you have a computer, put it on paper.’ So I did, and it laid in my desk for a number of years. Finally, both children said, ‘It’s time to publish a book.’ So I got an illustrator friend of Sally’s, Ann Hess, she did a great job, and we published it.”

He admits his whole aim in writing children’s books is to foster the need for imagination he believes is lacking in children today and get children reading. “If I could get one person to learn to read, I succeed because children who can read will succeed.”

Sam grew up in a small town, Clarksdale, MS, during the depression and enjoyed listening to the “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio show. He remembers that they had a closet with all this junk in it, and when they opened the door, you would hear all these sounds. He would imagine all of the items spilling out of the closet.

Growing up, Sam’s family was well off. His father owned a large cotton plantation and his mother ran a store that carried supplies for the local farmers. But, when the depression came, they lost everything. He remembers seeing his mother cry for the first time when the attorney told her that they no longer owned their home. But she told him that the family wasn’t leaving and agreed to a sum of $25 a month until it was paid off. “She lived until she paid it all,” says Sam. “She died at 52 of colon cancer. Thirty days after I joined the Marine Corps.”

Sam initially visited Arizona when his daughter, Sally, needed an operation. He suggested to his wife that they drive around. They liked what they saw and returned for several years until they decided to buy a home in Stonegate, where they lived for 20 years until Janet passed away. Sam admits to becoming a hermit for a time and then decided to make the move to the Vi senior community in Scottsdale. That was almost eight years ago.

“I was up in age, and I didn’t want the children to have to decide, ‘Where are we going to put dad when he is no longer able to take care of himself?’ So, I solved that for them,” says Sam.

In 2020, with the help of a friend and author, Sally started a crowd-funded campaign via Canva to help Sam launch his second book, Oscar the Mouse, during COVID. The successful campaign led to an outpouring of donations, allowing Sam to reach his $4,000 goal. In September 2020, Oscar the Mouse was released.

The inspiration for this story was based on a pet rat that someone gave Sam when he was a child – except he decided to change Oscar from a rat to a mouse. “Rats have a bad name, but she was so nice and clean, always grooming herself,” says Sam. “My mother wouldn’t let me keep her in the house, so I had to build a cage outside. I took her to school one day inside my shirt, and she poked her head out somebody saw. And that was the end of that. I had to take her home.”

Many of the themes in Sam’s books – kindness, acceptance of those different from you, and the desire to bring peace – all reflect his Jewish values. The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm is based on unconditional love; Oscar The Mouse features inclusivity and acceptance. These concepts were something he learned from his parents, and they guided his actions his entire life, and impacted how he raised his children.

In addition to his writing, he enjoys the amenities the Vi offers. He belongs to a Tuesday morning breakfast club that has met for 26 years, they are currently meeting on Zoom, but he looks forward to meeting in person again. Sam exercises and plays bridge and has been told that he plays his hand beautifully, but his bidding stinks. “The person in charge is a bridge professional and she says, ‘No guns allowed,’ so I’m safe there,” he jokes.

He is currently working on another children’s book and a novel that will take place a year after the Civil War about a young man living in Ohio along the Little Miami River. “I wake up at night, and I can’t go back to sleep, so I think of stories,” says Sam.

He hopes to release the novel this summer in June or July, ahead of his 100th birthday on Aug. 26. “See, I’m optimistic that I’m going to live that long.”

To order Sam’s books, visit sambakerbooks.com.

 

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