But after shooting more than 40,000 images while there, the couple – already authors of the award-winning children’s book “Stranger in the Woods” – knew they had material for another work geared toward youngsters.
That became “I Am Africa,” a 48-page book with gorgeous photos and educational and fun text by the duo, released recently.
“We visited five different parks in Kenya,” Sams said. “They were magnificent. We had it ‘rough’. We slept in a most comfortable bed, ate the most delicious food and viewed the most beautiful scenery.”
The husband and wife team learned a great deal about the wildlife they saw, lessons they share in their newest book and enjoy relating.
“We found that young zebras stripes are brown,” Sams said, pointing to a photo in the book showing a zeal of zebras strolling along in the dust.
“Baby baboons are in search of tactile connections,” Stoick said. “They are always reaching out to touch.”
Sams said he has been interested in photography his whole life.
“But when I was in high school, I couldn’t take the class because I couldn’t purchase a camera,” he said. “But I always would be taking photos in my mind, clicking away.”
It was Stoick – now a retired middle school art teacher – who years ago encouraged Sams to buy a camera.
“Jean encouraged me to try all kinds of art,” Sams said. “Photography is the one I focused on.”
A family of deer in their backyard became a favorite photographic subject and from the hundreds of thousands of photos Sams took of the deer and the birds in their yard, words were added to create “Stranger in the Woods,” a photographic fantasy about what the deer and birds had to “say” about a special visitor.
“Jean taught me about composition,” Sams said. “I add the ‘roar-rrr’ and things like that.”
Stoick added, “That’s our formula. Carl is my sample second-grader. If he can follow the rhythm of the story, then I know I’m OK.”
Sams and Stoick had such an amazing experience in Africa, they’re already planning a return trip in early 2015.
“The ecosystems in Kenya are so diverse, so unique, it would be hard not to return,” Stoick said.
“We will go back to Kenya and to Tanzania,” Sams said.
The couple, who hail from downstate Milford, have their second home in the Huron Mountains. They will be part of this weekend’s Art on the Rocks in Marquette, which is in Ellwood Mattson Lower Harbor Park from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
“Art on the Rocks is really the reason we are up here. We had no intention of buying property in the U.P.,” Sams said. “But we came up here for Art on the Rocks and were shown an A-frame for sale…”
The beauty of the area convinced the couple to buy the property and more than a decade later, they’re still coming up every year.
“We’re really, really happy with our home up here,” Sams said.
As for what’s next, they are not positive.
“That’s a hard one to answer,” Sams said. “We have several ideas in mind. We always want to get children engaged in books. We have a doe and triplet fawns in our yard, one of which is white with blue eyes. We also have a white turkey out there too, so there may be a story evolving from that.”
Whatever comes next, they are filled with joy talking about their new book and planning for a return visit to Africa.
“We have fun,” Sams said.
“Visiting Africa is really magical,” Stoick added.
“I Am Africa” won a Mom’s Choice Award in May. Mom’s Choice is an international program which evaluates products for children and families. Visit momschoiceawards.com for more information on that program.
For more information on the couple and their work, visit strangerinthewoods.com or carlsams.com.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.