Interview with Psychotherapist Amy Morin, Author of 13 Things Strong Kids Do

Anyone have a time machine?

For all of us who ever said, “I wish I’d known then, what I know now,” the Mixed Up Files has a special treat. Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW, has put a middle-grade twist on her adult series13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do—to create 13 Things Strong Kids Do. It presents different scenarios along with constructive activities to help kids start thinking in new ways … and I’m researching ways to send it back in time to my 13-year-old self!

Welcome, Amy!

Sean McCollum: I wish I’d had a book like 13 Things Strong Kids Do when I was in middle school! Its information and exercises might have given me the tools to sidestep some of those self-defeating adolescent mistakes or given me the tools to better handle them. How did the idea for this book come about?

Amy Morin: So many of my adult readers said the same thing—they wished they had been able to learn about mental strength when they were young. So I wanted to write a book that would teach kids how to start building mental strength so they can develop skills and tools that will continue to serve them well throughout their whole lives.

The author as an MGer. 🙂


SMc: Would you be willing to share an anecdote from your own teen years about a time you weren’t “strong,” and how advice from this book might have helped?

AM: Well, many of the stories in my book stem from my own childhood. There were plenty of times I wasn’t strong. One example is when I quit playing the saxophone after one day! I was in the sixth grade and I only went to one lesson before I decided it was going to be too hard for me. I could have used several exercises from the book to help me persist—like creating my own catchphrase or writing myself a kind letter. Those types of things would have helped me drown out all those negative thoughts I had about not being able to do it.

SMc: How might educators and other professionals use this title in their schools and classrooms?

AM: This book gives adults a common language to use with kids. When an educator or a professional asks, “Is that a BLUE thought or a true thought?” it’s a reminder to a child that they can take action to change their own thinking.

Adults can empower kids when they understand the skills and tools kids have at their disposal. Rather than taking responsibility for creating change, professionals can encourage kids to do it on their own with a little guidance.

My hope is that professionals will use the book as a guide so they better understand how to reinforce healthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in kids.

SMc: Could you share three “healthy habits” our readers could put to use right now?

AM: Label your feelings. When you name how you’re feeling, like sad or angry, you’ll instantly feel just a little bit better. Research shows labeling our emotions helps our brains make a little more sense of things and it reduces our stress.

Ask yourself if your feelings are a friend or an enemy. Any feeling can be a friend sometimes—even sadness or anger. After all, being sad might help you honor something you lost and being angry might give you courage to speak up for someone else. But, those feelings can be an enemy when they cause you to get into trouble or keep you from having fun in life. If your feeling is a friend, embrace it. If it’s an enemy, take steps to change how you’re feeling.

Change the channel in your brain. When you’re thinking about something that causes you to feel awful—like that mean thing someone said—change the channel in your brain. Dance to some music, sing a song, or read a joke book. That will change the channel in your brain and help you stop thinking about things that cause you to feel bad.

SMc: Do you recall a favorite middle grade book and any life lessons it taught you?

AM: I loved reading Judy Blume’s books. Blubber was my favorite. It helped me see that growing up is tough for everyone and I wasn’t alone in many of the things I was thinking and feeling.

SMc: Do you practice the exercises in this book?

AM: Yes, even though I’m no longer a kid, I find the exercises really helpful! Whether I’m calming my brain and my body when I’m nervous or I’m trying to face my fears one small step at a time, the skills that work for you when you’re young will help you when you’re grown too.

To follow Amy Morin and her life-helping work, check out:

Thanks so much for making to time to speak with us, Amy!

Readers, remember to enter our Rafflecopter raffle for Amy’s book. (This one is for American readers only.)

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Author Spotlight: Deborah Hopkinson + a two-book GIVEAWAY!

When I was approached to interview Deborah Hopkinson, I jumped at the chance. Deborah, who has enjoyed an illustrious career as a children’s book author, has penned more than 50 award-winning books for young people: picture books, MG fiction and nonfiction. Her latest book, We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance, was released on February 2 from Scholastic. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Deborah to the Mixed-Up Files.

Meet Deborah Hopkinson

MR: Hi, Deborah. Thank you for joining us on the Mixed-Up Files blog. It’s an honor to have you here.

DH: Thank you for having me, and for all you do to support young readers and authors.

MR: As stated in the introduction, you have written more than 50 books for children in different genres and on a wide variety of topics, from the Kindertransport of World War II to Dolly Parton and Michelle Obama. What draws you to a specific project, and what keeps you riveted?

DH: During in-person (and now virtual) author visits, I always tell young readers that I’m a lot like them: I get curious and want to know about things. And so I start researching and digging. I’m often spurred by the question: “How come I never knew about this?”

Stories of the Holocaust

MR: Your latest book, We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance, chronicles the stories of Holocaust survivors from Western- and Eastern European countries, including, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, and Hungary. With so many varied and important stories to share, how did you choose which ones to highlight? It must have been a herculean task.

DH: There are so many stories that need to be told. In We Must Not Forget and its companion, We Had to be Brave, I tried to be a curator of sorts. I began with a long list, and many oral histories and memoirs. The final books took shape as I tried to convey the varieties of what people experienced in different places and siuations. I also tried to include as many children and teens as possible. Lisa Sandell, my wonderful editor at Scholastic Focus, also encouraged me to round out sections to provide a fuller picture.

The historian’s role

 (Dr. Jacob Presser, author of Ashes in the Wind: The Destruction of Dutch Jewry)

MR:  As above, the stories in We Must Not Forget are extremely raw and painful to read: Jews chased by dogs and shot in the streets; children separated from their parents and siblings; the deportation of Jews and other marginalized groups to Nazi death camps; scientific experimentation on Jews, mass murder… How do you do the important work of sharing these stories without getting sucked under by grief and despair? Do you have any specific coping mechanisms in your author’s toolbox?

DH:  I try to always remind myself that writing, preserving, and passing these stories on is a very small thing. Early on in We Must Not Forget, I quote Dr. Jacob Presser, Holocaust survivor and Dutch historian, who spent fifteen years writing about the Jewish experience in the Netherlands under the Nazis. He said that working with scraps of messages thrown out from trains leaving the Netherlands gave him an awareness that one of the roles of the historian is “to give the dead a voice.”  I am an amateur historian only, but I tried to be guided by this when writing the book.

Strength in the face of despair

(Vlada Meed, who lost her parents, brother, and sister in the Warsaw Ghetto, and later joined the resistance)

MR: Fortitude and resilience are reoccurring themes in your books, particularly in your titles about World War II and the Holocaust. From your many years of research—including interviews with dozens of Holocaust survivors, which readers can access online via the links provided in your books—what do you think gives a person strength in the face of unspeakable ugliness and despair?

DH:  One thing that came up again and again was family. That’s not a surprise, of course. But the love of a parent, a sibling, a grandparent or a spouse gave people strength.

Yet it’s important to realize that often strength grew out of intense despair and hopelessness. Vladka Meed lost her parents, brother, and sister in the Warsaw Ghetto. She reflected that she had nothing left to lose and so willingly risked her life and joined the resistance. Vladka saved others, fell in love, and survived. After immigrating to the United States, Vladka and Benjamin Meed were among the key voices in founding the United States Holocaust Memorial as a living memorial to those who were killed.

Many of these stories center on brothers and sisters who kept going and tried to endure the unendurable for their siblings, or for the memory of their parents who had been murdered. I was struck by how many stories include mention of the impact of small acts of kindness from others. Although these were, sadly, rare, it is something that we can all remember to do better at.

Definition of a hero

MR: Altruism is another powerful theme in your books. As described in We Must Not Forget, a great number of non-Jews participated in the resistance movement by hiding Jews in their homes, bribing police and public officials, and smuggling Jews out of the country. As above, what gave these heroes the strength to take such extraordinary risks at the possible expense of their own lives? Also, in your eyes, what defines a “hero”?

DH: I don’t know that there is one answer to this, or an easy answer. And I don’t feel at all qualified to know what it was like to face those risks and choices. But I hope that as young people read these stories, they will ask themselves, as we all must do, how we stand up to unfairness, injustice, bullying, racism, and evil in our own lives.

I don’t know that I can define a hero either. But I do know that as I’ve read accounts of health-care workers fighting to save lives during this pandemic that these people are heroes.

The ugly rise of antisemitism

MR: On a separate but related note, antisemitism is on the rise. According to the American Defense League, assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remain at near-historic levels in the U.S. and in Europe. Additionally, an 2018 survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency revealed that 89% of European Jews living across the Continent feel antisemitism has increased in their country over the past decade. Almost half worried about being insulted or harassed in public because they are Jewish, and more than a third feared being physically attacked. I know this question can’t be answered definitively—and in the space allotted here—but in your opinion as an historian, what is the explanation for this uptick in antisemitism?

DH:  Yes, this rise in antisemitism and white supremacy is exceptionally disturbing. And the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was a sobering reminder of how extremism can take hold and how rhetoric and disinformation can fuel it. My books include links to the Anti-Defamation League for resources on antisemitism.

I researched and wrote We Had to be Brave and We Must Not Forget during the previous administration. And it was often very disturbing to see statistics on the rise of bullying and antisemitism today, while reading about young Kindertransport survivors, whose first inklings of what was happening after Hitler’s rise to power was being bullied and harassed by classmates and those they considered friends.

I am not a trained historian or scholar, of course. Nor am I Jewish; I am lucky to have an editor who is, and both We Must Not Forget and We Had to be Brave were also vetted by Jewish experts from the museum world.

In my writing and presentations for young readers to focus on historical thinking skills: sourcing, close reading, corroboration, and contextualization. I do this because I believe young children and teens need these tools to understand disinformation, propaganda, and misinformation to help counter the negative effects of rhetoric like this. I read recently that society needs to take this effort to combat extremism more fully, and I believe that is true.

The importance of empathy

MR: And finally, what would you like young readers to take away with them after reading your books—especially the ones about World War II and the Holocaust?

DH: I believe empathy is the most important thing I hope readers discover in these stories. It is a cliché, but true nevertheless: Reading about the past through the voices of real, ordinary people makes history come alive.

Another essential element to reading is discovering the power to make up your own mind and think for yourself about what is happening in the world.

In addition to fighting prejudice, racism, and discrimination in their everyday lives, I hope young people will be inspired to learn about the past—and feel empowered to become involved in their communities now and in the future.

Finally, I hope my books encourage readers to be brave enough to ask questions, follow evidence, and use their skills and knowledge to make up their own minds. I have a lot of hope young people can do just that.

MR: Thank you for joining us on the Mixed-Up Files, Deborah. We appreciate your participation hugely!

And now… 

a two-book GIVEAWAY!!!

For a chance to win WE HAD TO BE BRAVE and WE MUST NOT FORGET,  comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! 

Deborah Hopkinson’s bio

DEBORAH HOPKINSON is an award-winning author of picture books, middle-grade fiction, and nonfiction. Her nonfiction titles include We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport; Titanic: Voices from the Disaster; Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark; Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific; and D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History. Deborah lives with her family near Portland, Oregon, along with an eclectic assortment of pets. Learn more about Deborah on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour — Interview with Honor Book Award-winner Tziporah Cohen and a GIVEAWAY

The Mixed-Up Files is thrilled to be a part of the 2021 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! (For the full schedule click here.)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. As someone who has followed the award closely for many years (and was honored to be a past winner of their manuscript award which recognizes unpublished manuscripts) as well as a member of the review team for the Sydney Taylor Shmooze, a ‘mock’ version of the awards, I am especially thrilled and delighted to welcome author Tziporah Cohen, whose debut novel No Vacancy —about an 11-year-old Jewish girl who, with her Catholic friend, creates a Virgin Mary apparition at a drive-in movie theater to save her family’s failing motel—is a 2021 Sydney Taylor Award Honor Book in the middle grade category.

SEE BELOW for a chance to WIN A COPY of NO VACANCY by Tziporah Cohen!


About the book:



“With effortless mastery, Cohen weaves the opposing forces of innocence and corruption, right and wrong, love and hate.”—Inderjit Deogun, Quill & Quire starred review

Buying and moving into the run-down Jewel Motor Inn in upstate New York wasn’t eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman’s dream, but at least it’s an adventure. Miriam befriends Kate, whose grandmother owns the diner next door, and finds comfort in the company of Maria, the motel’s housekeeper, and her Uncle Mordy, who comes to help out for the summer. She spends her free time helping Kate’s grandmother make her famous grape pies and begins to face her fears by taking swimming lessons in the motel’s pool.

But when it becomes clear that only a miracle is going to save the Jewel from bankruptcy, Jewish Miriam and Catholic Kate decide to create their own. Otherwise, the No Vacancy sign will come down for good, and Miriam will lose the life she’s worked so hard to build.



Author Interview:

And now, here’s No Vacancy author Tziporah Cohen joining us here on the Mixed-Up Files!

MD: Hi Tzippy, what inspired you to write this story?

TC: The whole idea began while on a mini-vacation in Hershey, PA, where we stayed a couple of nights in a tired motel one summer while I was working on my MFA degree. There was a boy hanging around—maybe 7 or 8 years old—and it turned out he had moved there with his family and they were running the place. I thought it made a great, unique premise for a middle grade novel—a kid living in a motel that her parents were managing. (Kelly Yang’s fantastic novel, Front Desk, hadn’t come out yet.) The boy we met was South Asian, and Hershey is a pretty white town, and I wondered what that was like for him and his family. I had been thinking of writing something from my own Jewish experience, so the boy became an eleven-year-old Jewish girl named Miriam. I wrote the first chapters in that hotel room after my kids went to sleep!

MD: As a debut author, can you tell us about your journey to publication?

TC: It was a long one, as they usually are! I had an idea for a picture book back in 2006 and took an adult education course on writing picture books, which led to some online writing courses, which eventually led to an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I never saw myself writing a novel, but since you can’t do a two-year MFA just writing picture books, I wrote the first draft of No Vacancy over three semesters there. It took several more years of work after graduation before it was ready to submit. I had started looking for an agent but had also submitted the manuscript to Groundwood Books in Toronto, where I now live. When Groundwood sent me an offer of publication, after screaming with excitement, I approached the agents I was interested in with the offer in hand. So my road was a bit backwards at the end.

(The irony is that I never did write that picture book idea that started this whole journey!)

MD: I loved your interview on the Book of Life podcast where you talk about mentor texts—can you briefly explain what a mentor text is, and how you used them when writing NO VACANCY?

TC: Mentor texts are books (in this case) that a writer studies to learn how another author tackles a topic or how they use their craft to form a story. In my case, I wanted to see how other writers tackled the topic of religion and faith in their middle grade novels. There weren’t many out there, but I went back to a childhood favorite, Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. and the more recent Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman, both of which feature girls struggling to sort out their religious identity and what role they want Judaism to play in their lives.

MD: How did you choose the setting of upstate New York?

TC: I love upstate New York. I spent four years at Cornell University, in Ithaca, and while that’s not a small town, it was certainly very different from where I grew up on Long Island, about an hour’s drive from Manhattan. I’ve done many drives through upstate New York since then, going back and forth from Toronto to Long Island, and so it all felt very familiar and easy to picture in my mind.

MD: Are any of these events true to your own life?

TC: Unfortunately, the only event in the book that’s true to my life (outside of the religious observance) is the anti-Semitic experience that Miriam’s mother had. While I was never assaulted like she was, I had the experience of having pennies thrown at me in the halls of my junior high school. Like Miriam’s mom, I remember feeling ashamed. I wish I could redo that moment by confronting the person and—best case scenario—educating them about the hateful origins of that stereotype. And I would have liked to have felt proud rather than ashamed.

MD: I really love how you show both interfaith and interdenominational cooperation between Jews and Christians, as well as how even within Judaism that there are differences of observance such as between Miriam’s immediate family and her Uncle Mordy. Can you talk a little about that?

TC: It was important to me to show some of the diversity of Judaism—how differently people who identify as Jewish see their relationship to Judaism and how many different ways people practice it. I wanted Jewish children from a variety of religious backgrounds to see themselves and their families in the book, and I wanted non-Jewish children reading it to understand that there isn’t just one Jewish experience. So it was very intentional that the different members of Miriam’s family observed Judaism in different ways. My extended family’s Judaism is just as diverse as Miriam’s!

In the book, Miriam’s Christian neighbors support them after an act of anti-Semitism. My favorite stories, in real life and in fiction, are when different communities come together to fight hatred, because we are so much stronger when we are there for each other.

MD: What does it mean to you to win the Sydney Taylor Honor Award?

TC: I grew up reading Sydney Taylor’s All-of-A-Kind-Family books, which were probably the first books I read that were about a Jewish family, if you don’t count The Carp in the Bathtub! I grew up reading books with the Sydney Taylor Book Award stickers on them, and I’ve read innumerable winners to my children. I never even imagined I would write a book for kids, let alone one that would have its own Sydney Taylor Award sticker. It’s mind-blowing and humbling to me that I’m part of this club. I’m still pinching myself!

MD: Wow—congratulations and Mazal Tov, Tzippy! Thanks so much for these thoughtful responses and for sharing your journey with us here on The Mixed-Up Files! Readers can find Tzippy on Twitter at @tzippymfa and on her website

Giveaway! Enter! Win!

To enter for a chance to be the lucky winner of a copy of Sydney Taylor Honor Book NO VACANCY by Tziporah Cohen, click the link below and you can: comment on this blog post, tweet it out and tag us at @MixedUpFiles, or like our post on Instagram at @mixedupfilesmg. (US and Canada winners receive a hard copy, international winners receive an e-book and signed bookmark.)

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