As I’ve said before, I’m a big believer that books and reading helps kids learn about the world and hone their writing skills. Stories are key to unlocking creativity and imagination. One of the reasons I like the American Girl doll concept is because it’s not just about owning a doll. The product encourages reading and the dolls each come with a book (and have multiple books written about each of them).

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Valerie Tripp, the author of the MaryEllen story, and Denise Lewis Patrick, who wrote the Melody story. Again, I was given the opportunity of interviewing Teresa Harris, the author behind the new 2017 American Girl Doll of the Year, Gabriela McBride.

Gabriela McBride is a dancer, artist, and poet who wants to inspire change. She loves the arts — dancing, painting and music — but is also passionate about using words and writing to express her love of the arts. Like many writers, she believes words will help break down barriers and break through to people.

Teresa Harris, author of the “Gabriela” stories

I’m thrilled Teresa took the time to answer questions about what motivated her to write Gabriela’s story.

What inspired you to become a writer?

It’s kind of a cliché, but reading inspired me to become a writer. I read a ton as a kid—just about anything I could get my hands on—and one day, when I was in fifth grade, I thought to myself, I want to do this. I wanted to create worlds and people to inhabit them. So I sat myself down and wrote a whole story from start to finish about a pair of time-traveling cats named Buster and Twinkles.

How did you go about writing Gabriella’s story? Did you take events from your own life to weave into her narrative?

Because of her stutter, Gabby struggles when it comes to finding her voice, especially when it comes to public speaking. In many ways though, I was much more outspoken when I was Gabby’s age. There were still moments when I struggled to speak up, especially if speaking up meant challenging older kids or adults. In those cases, I couldn’t find the right words to say, or I was too intimidated. I pulled from those moments in my life to create similar moments in Gabby’s.

Gabriella finds her voice through poetry, which helps her save her community arts center from destruction. By telling this story, what is the lesson you’d like girls to learn about: 1) the importance of self-expression, and 2) places and programs like community arts venues and public art?

Girls and young women are frequently taught, implicitly and explicitly, to be “nice” and “well-behaved,” which all too often translates into: “Sit down and be quiet.” Through Gabby’s story, I want girls to learn that not only do they have the right to have a voice of their own, but that their words are important. What they have to say is powerful, and their words should and need to be heard.

What do you hope Gabriella will do for girls?

When Gabriela is confronted with a problem that seems insurmountable—the very likely closing of her second home, the Liberty Arts Center—she doesn’t lose hope. Instead, she rallies herself and others to stand up and do what’s necessary and right. I hope that, through her actions, Gabriela will inspire girls to do the same.

Teresa, thank you SO MUCH for answering my questions and for bringing these girls to life!

Disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored post. I received a Gabriela doll and book from American Girl as part of the research for this post. The idea for interviewing Teresa Harris, the questions asked, and my thoughts about children’s literacy and the American Girl dolls and books are entirely my own.