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Stacey Abrams is known for being a politician-turned-prominent voting rights activist, but she's now hoping to inspire youth to speak up for themselves, too.
The longtime Democratic lawmaker has written a children's picture book, Stacey's Extraordinary Words, a story based on her own experience competing in childhood spelling bees.
"I've always loved children's books. I enjoyed them as a child, but I've also always appreciated them as an adult," she tells PEOPLE exclusively. "My mom, who is a librarian by training, had a specialty in children's literature so growing up I was surrounded by children's books of all kinds from multiple cultures."
"And what I appreciate about them so much is the art and the intention it takes to tell a complete story in so few words, but [also] to do so in a way that sticks with a child," she continues. "Having the chance to do so was amazing."
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The illustrated book will be based on a character named Stacey, Abrams added in the statement, suggesting the protagonist shares her own experiences: "Like Jake, some kids picked on me and others who were different. Over the years, I learned how to use my words to do good, even when I am most afraid."
It addresses themes of perseverance and bravery, which was inspired, in part, by Abrams' childhood friend, Julie.
Abrams says in elementary school she grew close to her, a Vietnamese girl who struggled speaking English after her family moved to Mississippi following the Vietnam war.
Several years later, Julie wrote a letter to Abrams thanking her for being her friend and defending her against those who teased her, calling their friendship a catalyst for her eventually becoming a teacher.
"When I was writing this book I thought about Julie and what it must have been like for her and I remembered some of the kids who would pick on her because of the language," Abrams explains. "I remembered what it felt like to be a new kid in the class in the middle of the first term. It was a very jarring thing."
She adds, "Each of those things for me wove into how I got to the spelling bee but I think the throughline is that each of those things is the tale of perseverance, the tale of not getting everything you want but knowing that that is the through line that I wanted the story to carry."
Along with Stacey's Extraordinary Words, Abrams is also author to several other books, including political thriller While Justice Sleeps and romance novel Never Tell. She attributes her love for a variety of genres to her parents.
The voting rights champion tells PEOPLE reading was an important part of their household, revealing that her father, who loved stories but struggled to read due to his dyslexia, was "very intentional about cultivating our love of reading."
Paras Griffin/Getty Stacey Abrams
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"Neither of my parents ever tried to limit what we read and they didn't say ... there wasn't a 'You should read this kind of book' or 'Stay away from this type of story.' It was more go and learn, go explore and share what you find," Abrams adds. "That cultivated me this very deep appreciation for a broad range of writing so part of what happened for me is I write in multiple genres."
"It is about learning how it works and being respectful of the type of writing that's required," she says. "What my parents really taught us to believe is that it's the joy that it brings. It's the ability to be transported but it's also the responsibility to be respectful of the stories and the listener that makes the best writing."
Stacey's Extraordinary Words — published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books — is on sale now.