The inspiration for this book came from two young students from China I was helping as a volunteer in one of Seattle’s public elementary schools. From my own experience living overseas, I know how frustrating it feels when you can’t express yourself in the language of the people around you. You look and sound dumb.
Most immigrant children learn English quickly, so I wanted Gina to have another problem to overcome. Her condition is called “selective mutism,” which means she can speak at home, around familiar people, but cannot speak in public.
I wrote this book to submit to a contest sponsored by Pleasant Company Publications, American Girl’s book publishing arm, which was trying to encourage authors to write for its AG Fiction imprint, for readers aged 10 and up. The first year they sponsored the contest, I submitted another story, which was rejected. I worked on my fiction writing skills for a year and then submitted this story in August 2000. It was selected from hundreds of entries to win the contest. What a thrill!
My daughter, Emily, encouraged me to write a children’s book; she helped me brainstorm the storyline. When I told her that Gina could not speak in school, Emily told me the ending was “too obvious.” So I wrote an ending that was not so obvious.