St. John Author Introduces ‘Abbey the Ant’ at Book Signing

Author Shatik Stephens and illustrator Vakai Gumbs celebrate the end of a children’s reading series at a Nov. 20 book signing on St. John. (Photo by Judi Shimel)

When single mother Shatik Stephens found herself stricken with COVID-19 and on the tough end of a layoff notice, she said she wondered where life would lead her next. The answer came quickly in the form of a writing enterprise serving young readers.

On Saturday, former St. John Festival Queen Stephens sat down to a table in Mongoose Junction to sign copies of her latest children’s book.

Abbey the Ant is the first book in a 26-book series to be published. It was presented to local readers at a book signing event held Saturday at Bajo El Sol Art Bar and Rum Room. Admirers lined up to get autographed copies throughout the two-hour event, snapping photos with much of the camerawork performed by Abbey the Ant’s illustrator, Vakai Gumbs.

The visual work shows its strength in supporting the story of Abbey, a tiny creature living in a tree. Each page is vividly colored, framing the sentence or the phrase that tells the heroine’s tale about the day she overcame her fears to climb down her home in the tree to the ground.

There’s beauty in the books, both in the images created by Gumbs, an art teacher at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, and in the simple messages penned by the author; easy for young readers to follow as they build their vocabularies. And with that act, a milestone. Stephens said she completed her first children’s book series with titles spanning from A to Z. “I have all the way from A to Z, literally. I have books that depict an animal and a story. Some of them are lessons – there’s one that loves colors, there’s one that loves numbers, there’s one that’s afraid, there’s one that’s really cocky and one that likes to sleep,” she said. “Right now, it’s a side job, but eventually I’d like to have Storytime Books become a publishing company,” Stephens said.

The author said her book series for children began under circumstances that have become familiar to many since the start of 2020. After contracting Covid-19 and losing her job, the mother of three said she paused to assess the situation.

That night, she found the inspiration to write five short children’s books in a night. Since then, Stephens found a new job opportunity and kept producing books. At the Saturday event, the author said she hopes to write books full time eventually.

If Storytime Books is established and different titles make their way into the market, Stephens said there would always be room for the youth. “Eventually, I would like to see Storytime Books become a full-fledged publishing company, but I do want to specialize in children’s books. I do love working with kids,” she said. “It’s important to me that they develop good critical thinking skills and that they learn they can do anything.”