Bookshelf: Encourage kids to read by giving them books this holiday season

Local authors Stacey Abrams and H.D. Hunter publish just in time for the holidays.
Courtesy of Random House for Young Readers/Balzer+Bray

Credit: Random House for Young Readers/Balzer+Bray

Credit: Random House for Young Readers/Balzer+Bray

Courtesy of Random House for Young Readers/Balzer+Bray

If you need a last-minute gift idea for a child aged 4-8 this holiday season, Stacey Abrams has you covered. The former state representative is well-known as The New York Times bestselling author of the political thriller “While Justice Sleeps,” but she’s also the author of children’s picture books.

Her latest, “Stacey’s Remarkable Books” (Balzer + Bray, $19.99), published on Dec. 13 and is sure to delight pint-sized book lovers.

The semi-autobiographical story finds little Stacey spending recess alone reading books under a tree instead of playing ball with the other kids. One day the new kid in school, Julie from Vietnam, asks to join Stacey. When Julie admits she has difficulty reading English, Stacey offers to help by suggesting they read together.

The two girls bond over their shared love of stories and have so much fun reading books together, other kids from different cultures ask to join them. Together they form a reading club where they share stories from around the world and learn words in different languages.

Emboldened by the support of her friend, Stacey musters the courage to join the other kids playing ball during recess. It’s an inspiring story about inclusivity, personal growth and the joy of books.

Breathing life into Abrams’ words are big, bold illustrations of wide-eyed school children with various shades of skin color created by Kitt Thomas, who illustrated Abrams’ previous picture book, “Stacey’s Extraordinary Words.”

In the author’s note, Abrams talks about befriending the real Julie, who inspired the fictional character, and reveals the source of empathy she brings to her story.

“As a girl growing up in Gulfport, Mississippi, I spent a lot of time with books, diving into stories that felt exciting and fun and fantastical,” Abrams writes. “Between their familiar pages, I could be as brave or as daring as I wished. Real life proved to be much tougher. I felt awkward and unsure of myself, like many kids do, and I was aware of the differences in race and class between me and some of my fellow students, without having the language to describe why it mattered.”

The book’s last page is devoted to a list of more than 30 recommended picture books that span a variety of cultures, including “Crown” by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James; “Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story” by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal; and “Sulwe” by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison.

If you have kids aged 8-12 on your last-minute gift list, Atlanta author H.D. Hunter has a terrific new book out. “Futureland: Battle for the Park” (Random House Books for Young Readers, $16.99) is a thrilling Afrofuturistic story about a flying theme park that tours the world offering park-goers the opportunity to fulfill their wildest dreams. People can be a pro football player competing in a sports arena, perform onstage with a rock band, do battle inside a video game and more.

As the only child of the theme park’s creators, 11-year-old Cameron has grown up in Futureland and takes it for granted. But he’s shaken out of his complacency when the park arrives in Atlanta for a year-long run and things start to go wrong. In the rainforest, one of the gorilla androids — called revs — has gone rogue and begun displaying emotions. Soon, other revs begin acting strange, and then children begin to disappear.

When his parents come under attack for the goings-on, it’s up to Cam to find the missing children, figure out who’s behind the dirty deeds and save the park as well as his family.

But he still has regular kid problems to contend with, too, like being the new kid at school, where he’s a local celebrity for living atop Futureland, and having parents who are too distracted by work to pay him any attention.

Cameron’s one bright spot is his best friend and confidant, Dooley, a rev that looks like a female version of Cameron, who he passes off as a cousin. But soon he makes new friends at school and enlists their help in solving the mystery.

“Futureland” is a wild, imaginative ride with lots of Atlanta references and cool illustrations by Khadijah Khatib, ideal for sci-fi readers in grades 3-7.

So spread the cheer this year by giving a child a book and support local authors at the same time.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Contact her at