For Stacey Abrams, life began with a book. Speaking to TODAY.com, the politician and published author says that books were her favorite companions growing up in Mississippi.
"It was a way to find friends and to be everything I thought I could be because in those pages, I could find a world I wanted to be in," Abrams tells TODAY.com.
"I was very reserved ... I skipped a grade and kids get to know each other early in school. I was a bit of a new kid in the space, but I also just felt much more comfortable with books and words."
Finding solace in books and community among book lovers is the theme of her new children's book "Stacey's Remarkable Books," available Dec. 13.
Throughout the 18 pages, the title character reads during recess instead of playing with the other students. But one by one, the other students join her in reading and they start a book club where they each pick books in their home languages and teach each other words.
The new release is a followup to her 2021 children's book "Stacey’s Extraordinary Words," in which young Stacey competes in a spelling bee. Abrams is also the author of romance novels and political thrillers, including the recent "While Justice Sleeps."
Abrams, a former state representative in Georgia, dedicated the book to her six nieces and nephews and says the book is based off her personal experience of growing up in Gulfport, Miss.
She says language is “grounded in not only where we’re from, but who can understand it," which creates a power dynamic. Reading, for Abrams, is a tool for creating empathy and understanding.
“The energy of books, the energy of storytelling, is the ability to shape how people understand each other, how we understand the world around us and how we understand our place in it,” she says.
Abrams, 48, learned this first hand from her mother and father, from whom her love of reading comes. Her mother was a librarian; she and her siblings "used to take naps in the stacks" of the library she worked in. Her father learned to read as an adult because he grew up in segregated Mississippi and fell through the cracks of the education system.
"(The book is) an homage to both of my parents: My mom, who made sure we understood the magic of a library. And my dad, who fought to be able to read and at the age of 30 basically taught himself to read prolifically because it was so important to him. That's what I want kids and their parents to take from this book — that there is a universe out there, and we just have to go and find it."
"There is a universe out there, and we just have to go and find it."
Abrams, a graduate of Yale Law School, says she is always reading three books at a time — one fiction, a non-fiction choice and a third book that she's just interested in. She's currently reading "The Anomaly: A Novel" by Hervé Le Tellier, "The Last Lion: Volume 1: Winston Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874 — 1932" by William Manchester and "Freeing Energy" by Bill Nussey.
She says she reads so much because it's exciting for her. But she realizes many kids and adults consider reading more chore than pastime.
"I've never found books to be boring," Abrams explains. "They've always been the windows into worlds. But they're also a great place to go and bring things back with you. The best books are the ones that you carry with you, where you carry a new word, or a new way of thinking, or a new way of imagining who you are and who you can be. That, to me, is the most impressive quality of books, especially storybooks for kids."
Abrams says kids often have little control over what their parents have decided for them, such as where to live, what school to attend, what grocery stores or churches they visit and even what they eat. The choice of what book to read next becomes that much more important, Abrams says.
"You live in a very small space because you're a kid and books expand those spaces and expand your understanding of where you fit," she says. "You then realize, 'There's something beyond what I know. There's some space beyond what I occupy. My bedroom is not the center of the world and this school is not the only place.' And that is such a vital and visual opportunity for kids."
Of course, reading takes time and Abrams knows there is only so much time in a day. But she says "we make space in our days for the things that are vital to us." For her, that's reading.
"We don’t ask how did you make time to (eat). This is not to disparage anyone who doesn’t read, but reading is so much a part of who I am, I’m going to find the time to do it. And it may not be reading a whole book that day but I’m going to read something and it’s going to add to my day."
Abrams' reading routine entails waking up early to read and then returning to her book again in the evening. "That means there’s something I’m not going to do tonight that maybe I would have done because I want to finish this book," she says.
Abrams' book celebrating diversity comes amid ongoing legal fights to ban diverse books in schools. She cites those legal battles as another reason for why she wrote the children's book.
"There's been this national conversation and somewhat controversy about diversity and whether we should talk about it," she says. "And the reality is, absolutely. Children can see. They know things are different. They know their lives are not the same as everyone else's. And it is disingenuous, and I think dangerous, to not engage that. And so I was thinking, what experience did I have as a child that made me think about the world that way?"
Abrams focusing on her book right now has given her space to reflect on what's next for her. Previously, she ran for Governor of Georgia and lost to incumbent Republican Brian Kemp for a second time.
"I don't know what I will run for again, or if I'll run again," she says. "My career has been grounded in yes, I run for office, but I also do my best to help others run and help others win. And so whether it's me or someone else, I'm not done with politics. I don't know what's next yet. But I'm going to figure it out."