Stacey Abrams never ceases to amaze. While few missed the announcement of her latest campaign for governor of Georgia, to reclaim the victory many believe was stolen from her in 2018, news of her releasing her very first children’s book may not be as well-known. Like everything else the Spelman alum does, her book Stacey’s Extraordinary Words is rooted in something very real.
“I love children's literature,” says Abrams, who is one of six children. “My mom was a college librarian. She was a reference librarian, but she also did a lot with children's literature. So I grew up appreciating just how thoughtful and insightful good children's lit could be. I have my own very extensive collection of it. And the opportunity to take important stories and make them accessible to a younger audience is something that appeals to me, especially because I have nieces and nephews who are of the age where this kind of story could be helpful and fun.”
Illustrated by the nonbinary Caribbean-American artist Kitt Thomas, Abram's children's book follows young Stacey as her love of words literally explodes on the page. In it, our protagonist explains why words are a draw and introduces readers to some—like “persnickety”—that fascinate her. That passion gets her to the school’s spelling bee and that’s where the real lessons are taught.
As explained in detail in her author’s note at the end of the book, the tale is borne of the aspiring governor’s very real experience of turning to books to help her cope with the awkwardness that came with her being skipped to second grade as well as just not fitting in overall.
“It’s one of my sharpest memories,” Abrams says of the book’s general storyline. “The memory of the first day in second grade. I remember that very clearly. And then I remember my first spelling bee in part because I misspelled the word chocolate. I grew up in Mississippi, I had no idea there was a second 'o' in chocolate,” she chuckles.
Some may not recognize how authoring a children’s book, especially about words and a spelling bee, aligns with Abrams’ ongoing mission of using her voice to help make the world more just, especially when it comes to voting rights, but the two are very much connected for Abrams. “Voting is the action we take to publicly declare our goals,” explains the author and political activist, who also founded the nonprofit platform Fair Fight. “But voting in and of itself is not the mission. The mission is the belief that we are all entitled to a voice, that we're all entitled to access, and that we’re all entitled to opportunity. Reading is just one of those ways that my parents helped instill that in us.”
Representing is, of course, as important to Abrams the author as it is to Abrams the political change agent. It’s why with Stacey’s Extraordinary Words— and her many adult novels such as Hidden Sins and Deception, which she penned under the nom de plume of Selena Montgomery—that her protagonists are of color. “I want people to understand that there's this accepted notion of universality that comes from not being a person of color and I'm not going to enforce that,” she says. “And, so, my characters, they're going to look like my community, but they're going to be in stories that are universal and accessible."
For those who have been taught to view happy endings through a material lens, in which success is physically visible and represented by something tangible, Stacey’s Extraordinary Words may catch them off guard. But, as Abrams has proven in her adult life, what may look like failure to some isn’t always the case.
“What I hope this story is emblematic of, and what I hope my life is emblematic of, is that you can make progress, and you can get good done but that doesn't always mean you win the prize,” she explains. “And what I wanted the character of Stacey to signal is that she had done something amazing, but she did it in part because it's what she loves, and that it didn't cease to be a love for her simply because she didn't get the trophy at the end.”