Sam Baker’s childhood was no ordinary one.
Growing up in a small southern town in Mississippi during the Great Depression, Baker would spend his days listening to the radio or feeding the large green caterpillars that’d crawl on the dill plants in the backyard — or even playing with his pet white rat.
A friend gave him the pet rat when he was about 10 and it became the inspiration of a children’s book that he wrote nearly 90 years later.
“Oscar The Mouse” is Baker’s second book, which he wrote while quarantined at his retirement home.
“After the publication of my first book, ‘The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm,’ I thought it was time for book No. 2,” Baker said. “I just let my mind wander and I filtered out many ideas, until I remembered my pet white rat and thought that it could develop into a great story.”
With illustrator Lisa Morris by his side, Baker spent three to four months writing and creating “Oscar The Mouse,” a book that tells the story of a mischievous little mouse who becomes a little girl’s first pet.
“She was large but ever so friendly — and clean as could be,” Baker recalled of his pet rat. “However, my mother would not let me bring her into the house.”
While “The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm” is a chapter book about unconditional love, “Oscar The Mouse” is a picture book about inclusivity and acceptance.
“The basis for the story resided in my childhood. My father was a cotton farmer, who had many, many people of color living on his farm,” Baker said.
Both Baker’s father and mother treated everyone who lived at or visited the family farm with respect, regardless of the color of their skin, Baker said.
“What I learned from my parents guided my actions and thoughts, for my entire life,” he added. “It’s reflected in how I treat people, how I judge people, and how my wife and I taught our children to view people.”
It’s what Baker hopes to teach children with “Oscar The Mouse.”
“Our nation is going through a time of change, a change that is long overdue, but not accepted by all,” Baker said. “Every effort, no matter how small, to achieve the needed change, it needed, and I feel that our book has contributed to the change.”
“The future of this nation and the world depends on the children of today,” he continued. “They will determine the future. If the stories they read as children, can direct them to the right path of the future, and my book helped guide them, all my efforts have been richly rewarded.”
“We have given away many copies of ‘Oscar’ and will continue to do so, so that those children who didn’t get a book can get the chance to read ‘Oscar’ and be guided by its story,” Baker said.
“I have always thought that the gift of a printed children’s book is a gift that lasts a lifetime and one that you can then pass on to your children,” he added.
The most popular reaction he’s received from the book? Three words: “Read it again.”
Baker’s daughter, Sally Baker Simon, isn’t surprised her father took up writing children’s books “because he has a wonderful imagination.”
“I love the energy and joy of Oscar and his mischievous sweet nature,” she said. “My dad created Oscar to help children playfully address their fears of things under the bed. My dad also loves creating talking animals who bring fun and joy into people’s lives.”
“He invented stories for us when we were young, mostly about a green tomato worm named Herman that got into all kinds of antics, even sneaking into space capsule with John Glenn!”
Baker’s first book is inspired by the childhood bedtime stories he told them, Simon added.
“I think writing children’s books has brought out a more playful side of my father,” she said.
“Oscar” helped Baker tap into his creative side amid a pandemic.
“He had something to look forward to during a challenging time,” Simon said. “I think both books improved his life. He loved being involved in the process of creating a book and working with people over Zoom.”
In addition to dedicating the book to Baker’s grandchildren, Baker has dedicated “Oscar” to healthcare workers and first responders.
“Lisa and I would also like to honor all the medical professionals, civil servants, military, first responders, truckers, volunteers, and those behind the scenes during the battle against COVID-19,” Baker wrote. “God bless you all.”
To purchase the book, visit sambakerbooks.com.