In September 1977, I left my secure downtown Minneapolis corporate job to "be a writer." As I told people why I was leaving, the first question folks asked was invariably, "Are you going to write a book?" A few people even assumed the answer to the first question was "yes" and skipped right to, "What is it going to be about?"
I always answered "no" at the time, but since have conceded to having a few books simmering in the cogitative stages in the recesses of my brain. However, I've recently discovered a book that raises my expectations of what a good book looks like.
A man in Nisswa who has read my columns sent me an e-mail suggesting I read this book and offering to lend me his copy. I agreed based on trust that this reader had a good idea of what I'd like based on what I've written. What did I have to lose? Nothing. He was 100 percent right on.
The book, "Stranger in the Woods," by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick of Michigan, is a beautiful blend of an original story intended for children illustrated with striking nature photography. The inspiration came to the nature photographers while looking through 60,000 photos they'd taken over the years of a family of white-tailed deer. Stoick wrote the story dedicated to "those who protect wild places and to the snowman that lives in every child's heart."
The story tells of a stranger who appeared in the woods after a winter storm. It's told from the perspective of a doe and her fawn, the Owl of Many Questions, a muskrat, porcupine and other northwoods creatures. The story demonstrates a unique and refreshing perspective, and the photography is amazing. The reader, young or old, feels drawn into the chilly woods as the story unfolds.
The book is an inspired masterpiece in itself that includes a creative "Recipe for a Snowman" at the end. One fan with three boys ages 5 and under writes, "Thanks for a pleasant distraction from the crazy realities of life!!" A 60-year-old woman who bought the book for herself comments, "If I've had a bad day at the office, I come home and pick up your book and forget the cares of the world. Thanks for bringing so much joy to us."
But the authors went beyond the book to reach fans through a wide range of media. Sams' second cousins, Robert and Laura Sams, created a movie and soundtrack for "Stranger in the Woods." The young brother and sister creative team share a passion for "using nature as a springboard for learning" with education in zoology and natural resource education and communication systems providing the means to bring that passion to fruition.
The video movie adds snowdrifts named Pierre and Janine as narrators of the story and clever songs sung by the snowdrifts, an oak leaf and, of course, the animals. In addition to the video and CD, there is a curriculum guide with classroom activities for grades K-5 to help bring the book to life. And finally, Laura and Robert Sams give lively interactive presentations to groups of up to 125 students.
Of course there is also a Web site at www.strangerinthewoods.com promoting all of this. But there's also a page on the site that explains how the book was used to raise $50,000 for charities. A portion of every book sold goes to the Nature Conservancy. And more than $8,000 was raised for the Rainbow Connection, an organization that makes wishes come true for children with life-threatening illnesses, in just the first four weeks of a region-wide Barnes and Noble and statewide Borders funds matching program. Additional proceeds were used to help fund a children's library in the cancer center at a local hospital.
We live in a world where "new" movies that aren't remakes or sequels often at least share very familiar story lines. A truly imaginative story with a fresh view of nature is a highly valued treasure. For those who decide to take a look at this book or video, I leave you with a warning written for the video by Robert Sams.
"Warning: Only to be viewed under the strict supervision of a child or someone else young at heart. Failure to do so may result in unexpected smiling, occasional laughter and, in some cases, extreme happiness."
And many thanks to Al for sharing this book with me.
(Diane McCormack is a correspondent for The Brainerd Dispatch and a freelance writer living in north central Minnesota. Comments and story ideas are welcome by e-mail to email@example.com or call (218) 821-5297.)
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