New Releases

Interview with Christina Collins, author of THE TOWN WITH NO MIRRORS

From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors welcomes Christina Collins, author of THE TOWN WITH NO MIRRORS (Sourcebooks, Feb 2023). Collins is New England born but currently lives in Northern Ireland. Her debut middle-grade novel, After Zero, was an NCTE Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts, and she holds a PhD from Queen’s University Belfast and an MFA from George Mason University, both in creative writing.

Here, Collins chats with MUF contributor Andrea Pyros about the challenges of writing a dystopian story for middle-grade readers, the magic and comfort of reading as a middle-schooler, and what she’s read – and loved – lately.  

Mixed-Up Files: Tell us about THE TOWN WITH NO MIRRORS.

Christina Collins: THE TOWN WITH NO MIRRORS is my second middle-grade novel, set in a modern utopian town called Gladder Hill, where mirrors and cameras are forbidden, words like “beautiful” and “ugly” aren’t in the dictionaries, and twelve-year-old Zailey has grown up knowing every face in town…except her own. There’s no talk of how people look, no body shaming… Sounds good, right? But it might not be as utopian as it seems. And Zailey has questions—as well as a guilty secret that could get her and her grandmother evicted if she were discovered… I’ll stop there so I don’t give too much away!

The Town With No Mirrors by Christina Collins (book cover)

MUF: What inspired you to write this story? 

CC: It all started when I took a fascinating dystopian literature course in grad school a while back. I was a creative writing student, so I had the option to write a short story rather than an essay for my final project. At the time, I was also into fairy-tale reimaginings, so an idea popped into my head regarding Snow White’s “happily ever after”: What if Snow White wanted to ban mirrors from her kingdom as soon as she became queen? After all, she’d almost died at the hands of a mirror-obsessed stepmother.

Then I began to imagine what such a society would be like—one without mirrors or any reliable way of knowing what your face looks like. I wrote it as a short story for the class, but the concept stuck with me. That’s probably because body image was such a personal topic for me (and who hasn’t struggled with body image at some point?). I also read about an interesting trend that had been popular circa 2012, called “mirror fasting.” I eventually scrapped the Snow White angle and started writing about the idea in a way that felt more relevant: as a middle-grade novel with a contemporary setting. This felt right not only because body-image concerns so often emerge in young people around middle-grade age, but also because the modern world presents so many opportunities for physical comparison. The novel grew from there!

MUF: There are some serious themes in this novel, but you’re writing for middle grade readers. Can you talk about how you balance the topics in a way that works for this age group?

CC: Great question. To be honest, it’s not something I thought consciously about while writing the book. As I touched on above, middle school is a time when so many kids (including past me) begin to really compare themselves to others and struggle with body image—for some, it sadly starts even younger—so writing this story for a middle grade readership felt pretty natural.

The key for me was to approach the themes through the eyes of a twelve-year-old; Zailey may not fully understand all of the serious issues pertaining to the mission of Gladder Hill, but she is certainly curious, growing more aware, and asking questions. The topic of eating disorders does come up, but the story didn’t call for explicitly discussing it, only touching on it briefly. While the novel features serious themes, I also wanted to make sure it was an entertaining story with some mystery, adventure, and a sense of hope at the end, which I think helps with balance.

MUF: What makes you enjoy and want to write for MG readers in particular? 

CC: I remember the magic and comfort of reading fiction when I was an MG reader myself. It strikes me as a particularly influential and formative time in a reader’s life, and there’s something so special about being a part of that as an author. Plus, I like reflecting on and writing about the age that hovers between childhood and young adulthood—all the excitement and confusion and wonder of it, chock-full of story possibilities.

Author Christina Collins

Christina Collins. Photo: Kalie Reid

MUF: You were born in Massachusetts but now live in Ireland. Does the experience of being an immigrant inform your writing, and if so, in what ways? 

CC: I drafted my debut novel and got the idea for my second novel all before I moved, so I think the experience hasn’t had too much influence on my first two novels. But now that I’ve been in Northern Ireland for seven years (!), I suspect it will influence my writing more and more.

It’s funny—when I brainstorm new ideas, I often find myself defaulting to a US setting, maybe partly because it keeps me feeling connected to where I’m from, and because writing about home and the familiar can be comforting when you live an ocean away from most of your family and friends. At the same time, I’m finally feeling ready to write about the experience of moving to and living in Northern Ireland; I have some story ideas in that regard and can’t wait to see where they take me.

MUF: What’s your writing process like? 

CC: It varies with each project, but I usually like to get to the end of a first draft on my own, without the influence of any outside feedback. I start by writing a sort of story pitch; this helps me figure out if I have enough of a grasp on what I want the story to be about overall and whether there’s a strong enough hook. From there I flesh it out into an outline, and then I tend to write until I have a complete first draft that I’ve read through and lightly revised at least once on my own, before sending it to my agent for her thoughts and suggestions.

MUF: What are your favorite dystopian novels (for any age)?

CC: Ooh, so many! The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is definitely up there for me; that book blew my mind when I first read it in my early twenties, and it’s one I come back to. Other favorites include the YA novel Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill and the MG novels Alone by Megan E. Freeman and Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

MUF: What are some other recent middle-grade books that you’ve enjoyed? 

CC: Girl (In Real Life) by Tamsin Winter, This Last Adventure by Ryan Dalton, and Bright by Brigit Young are all recent reads that I highly recommend. And I’m currently reading and loving Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone by Tae Keller.

MUF:  What are you planning on working on next?

CC: I have several story ideas, so the challenge for me is picking one I feel confident enough to stick with. As I mentioned earlier, I’d love to set a middle-grade novel in Northern Ireland where I live, so I’m hoping to focus on that next.

MUF: Where can people find you online?

CC: You can visit my website at and find me on Instagram and Twitter as @stinacoll, although I don’t use Twitter much these days.

New books just in time for the holidays!

Check out these new December releases for all of your favorite middle-grade readers! This selection includes the newest from an adventure series and an out-of-this-world book on space by renowned astronomer Dean Regas.

Never After: The Broken Mirror, Roaring Brook Press, written by Melissa de la Cruz 

Real life and fairy tales collide in Never After: The Broken Mirror, book three of the funny and thrilling series from #1 New York Times–bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz.

The Never After crew is back for another twisted adventure. This time, they’re off to Snow Country—that is, after they rescue the beleaguered Lord Sharif of Nottingham from the evil Robin Hood, who has been plaguing the land with his thievery and mischief.

But Robin’s antics aren’t the only dangers afoot in the Kingdom of Never After. At the behest of her daughter, the evil Cinderella, Queen Olga has turned Prince Charming into a Frog after his wedding to the beautiful Hortense. And how could we forget the ominous Prophecy, which still looms large over Filomena and her friends?

Along with Jack, Alistair, Gretel, Beatrice, Byron Bessley, and some new Snow Country pals like Rose Red and a chatty magic mirror, Filomena sets off to find the only ones who can save the kingdom once and for all: The League of the Seven – a group of fearless warriors devoted to fighting the ogres at any cost.

Still, new threats lurk around every corner, both in Never After and back home in North Pasadena . . . Even with the League of the Seven’s help, can Filomena and her friends rescue the land from Olga’s clutches? Or will the ogres finally prevail?

1000 Facts About Space, National Geographic Kids, written by Dean Regas

Did you know … that one of Saturn’s moons is so hollow it would float in water? That the largest known star is 3.69 billion times bigger than our sun? Or that Jupiter likely has diamonds floating in its clouds?

Explore dazzling facts about the vast expanse of space, from glowing stars billions of light-years away to supermassive exploding supernovas to rockets thundering into the unknown. This comprehensive book takes you on a mind-blowing tour of our unbelievable universe and is full of fascinating facts on topics such as space exploration, our solar system and galaxy, and beyond.

Expert astronomer Dean Regas―former host of PBS’s Star Gazers and astronomer of the Cincinnati Observatory―takes you on an incredible tour of facts about each planet in our solar system, dwarf planets, our sun and other stars, exoplanets, comets, asteroids, galaxies, space travel, and so much more. Hundreds of stunning photographs bring the facts to life.

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey, Holiday House, written and illustrated by Jason Chin

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey

Jason Chin, winner of the Caldecott Medal for Watercress, dives into the microscopic building blocks of life in this companion to the award-winning Your Place in the Universe.

In Your Place in the Universe, Jason Chin zoomed outward, from our planet, solar system, and galaxy to the outer reaches of the observable universe. Now, Chin reverses course, zooming in past our skin to our cells, molecules, and atoms, all the way down to particles so small we can’t yet even measure them.

Like its companion, The Universe in You is a mind-boggling adventure that makes complex science accessible and enjoyable to readers of any age.

Impeccably researched, wholly engrossing, and with extensive backmatter for additional learning, The Universe in You is another knockout from the award-winning creator of RedwoodsGrand Canyon, and other distinguished works of nonfiction for young readers.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Minecraft: Master Builds, Random House World, by Mojang AB

Minecraft: Master Builds - Mojang Ab

Marvel at Minecraft’s greatest creations and meet the builders who have taken the game to new levels.

Packed with stunning illustrations, Minecraft Master Builds showcases the creations that have taken the game to new levels, and introduces the builders behind them.

Explore all the possibilities of Minecraft, from stunning underwater sculptures to impressive space panoramas, or travel through time to visit grand medieval towns and futuristic cityscapes. Each colossal creation is shown in beautifully rendered illustrations to highlight the painstaking details that make these builds masterful. The exclusive interviews with the builders shed light on the creative forces and processes behind each build.

Whether you’re marveling at the wonders that Minecraft’s greatest builders have to offer, or searching for inspiration to become one yourself, your tour begins here.

Pencilmation: The Graphite Novel, Penguin Young Readers, written by Ross Bollinger

Pencilmation: The Graphite Novel - Bollinger, Ross

Join the characters from Pencilmation in this new graphic novel featuring new stories, comics, activities, and more


Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad #3: The Law of Cavities Blog Tour + Giveaway

Welcome to the Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad #3: The Law of Cavities Blog Tour!

Follow along as we celebrate the release of The Law of Cavities (October 11th) with behind-the-scenes looks from author Valerie Tripp, plus 5 chances to win all 3 books in the Izzy Newton series!

Girls Care Deeply: 
Tapping into girls’ profound desire to protect the environment and animals
by Valerie Tripp

Once again, my trusty Lunch Bunch girls were the source of my story’s heart and soul. With a combination of hilarity, dismay, and happiness the girls talked about Outdoor Education Weekend memories like crushes, gelatin for dessert, creepy-crawlies, ancient showers, and ghost stories. And through it all, beneath the jokes, their deep concern for the outdoors, for protecting the environment and animals came through loud and clear. When I listened to this extraordinary group of middle school girls, I learned that they take science seriously – and they also take science to heart. They taught me:

  • Science is not cold or arcane. It is a practical, human – sometimes even humorous — part of everyday life that when applied, makes life better.
  • It’s okay – in fact, it’s great! — to be smart, caring girl who is interested in science, especially the environment.
  • It’s okay – in fact, it’s great! – to be your quirky, unique, honest self.
  • It is okay — in fact, it’s essential — to make mistakes, learn from them, and laugh at them.
  • The best solutions happen when we listen to different points of view and combine talents.
  • Sometimes an idea that seems laugh-out-loud silly is brilliant.
  • The steps in the scientific method (identify the problem, gather relevant data, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis) can be used to solve scientific research problems AND behavior/learning/emotional/interpersonal problems.

How could I celebrate and honor my Lunch Bunch girls’ interest in the environment? Well, my Lunch Bunch girls were rapturous about raptors, especially owls, because “they are so cute.” They wanted the Squad to find that the island was newly inhabited by a kind of owl that is on the endangered animal list. I was thrilled: I love owls, and right here in Montgomery County we have owls we haven’t had before. They’re here because of climate change. And there are certainly owls on the endangered list.

That core idea connected to something in my brain. In 2001, my friend, the poet Mary Clare Powell, sent me her poem “Things Owls Ate”. It begins:

The sixth graders are dissecting them,
regurgitated refuse, indigestible parts
of things owls ate, found where owls roost,
near the white splash markings on barn boards.
The kids say the idea is gross but once they cut
open the hard shells it is soft gray feathers
and hair they first find. At the center of
that bed the bones appear, scapula and tiny skull.
The children are excited to match bone to
bone, using a printed guide, laying out the
frames of tiny eaten things. They learn anatomy.

That quiet poem stayed tucked in my brain for 20 years, waiting to connect to the spark the Lunch Bunch girls gave me for Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: The Law of Cavities, a story about owls, and how there are surprises hidden in people and places, just as there are in owl pellets. Mary Clare illustrated for me the metaphorical link between fact and fiction, nature and human nature. My lovely and generous friend Kay Taub gave me an owl pellet of my own to dissect, much to my delight, and a printed guide to learn from. Clearly, generosity is abundant in people who love owls. Bárbara Freitas and Emma Gesiriech, both raptor experts, graciously answered my owl questions with expertise and enthusiasm and came up with even better ideas to bring authenticity to the story. My daughter Katherine, another owl fan, helped me tremendously by recollecting with great good humor and specificity her memories of dealing with dental braces and her 6th grade outdoor education experience. We laughed and laughed and all the while, Katherine was providing me with valuable pages of notes. Katherine’s professional research and writing about the benefits of outdoor education for middle school students was an inspiration—as Katherine herself always is!

My friends Betsy Randall-David and Sara Jarvis sent thoughtful, thorough lists and, during our video call, generated a treasure trove of outdoor, environmentally connected games and activities for Camp Rosalie Edge, all tried and true from Camp Lala-Gigi, which they created for their lucky grandchildren. Essential to my story were Betsy and Sara’s observations and insights about children’s interactions and behaviors while camping. Mary-Grace Reeves, my pen pal since she was a little girl, has just graduated from Stanford Medical School. It was exhilarating how Mary-Grace immediately understood the idea of science-effecting-girls’-friendships and came up with the funny, smart, perfect idea of hair turning green from oxidization, which I loved. Becky Baines thought up the great title: Izzy Newton and S.M.A.R.T. Squad: The Law of Cavities. Thank you, Becky! Shelby Lees and Erica Green are my partners in joy in creating the S.M.A.R.T. Squad stories. I can never thank them enough for asking the question that brought all the elements of this story together: What if Izzy has braces? 

So, I merely combined the deep concern for the environment expressed by my Lunch Bunch girls with the generosity and kindness of owl lovers and the trials of braces and Ta Da! Izzy Newton and S.M.A.R.T. Squad: The Law of Cavities came to be.

A message to readers from author Valerie Tripp:
I hope my readers will come away with this message: You are a scientist. You observe, test, evaluate, and draw conclusions constantly. STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—is not restricted to labs or science fair booths or classrooms. You’re doing STEM stuff everywhere, all the time, when you cook, run, feed you pet, quench your thirst, dive into a wave, wash your hands, learn to do a cartwheel, spend time on your laptop, look up at the stars, cut an apple into parts and divvy up the shares. Know this, embrace this, celebrate this—and take responsibility for both exploring AND protecting this extraordinary, exciting, surprising universe. Get out there! Be active, curious, and focused. Take yourself seriously. Your actions matter because they will shape the world we all live in.  Be mindful, pay attention, learn, and live fully with courage and zest.  And don’t be afraid to fail. Chaos, mess, and failure are essential parts of all creative endeavors like science. Don’t worry. Things heal. Mistakes are forgiven. You have plenty of time to tidy up.

About the Book


Meet the characters, watch the book trailer and check out the Educator and Reader’s Guides on the series website here!

The S.M.A.R.T. Squad is back to tackle more middle school mayhem with science, technology, engineering, math, and friendship!

In this third book in the S.M.A.R.T. Squad series, best friends Izzy Newton, Allie Einstein, Marie Curie, Charlie Darwin, and Gina Carver set out on a mystery-filled Outdoor Adventure Camp experience.

Now that Izzy’s finally found her voice in public speaking class and become an ice hockey star, she’s determined to conquer her “dizzy-Izzy-ness” in new situations―including caring for her brand-new braces on an outdoor education overnight and her friends’ good-natured teasing about her friend Trevor. But the forecast for fun turns cloudy when the girls discover their cabin chaperone is none other than Izzy’s tough public-speaking teacher, Ms. Martinez, and their junior counselor is eighth grade mean girl, Maddie Sharpe.

When an innocent exchange of harmless pranks with Maddie takes a turn for the worse, the Squad turns to science to prove their innocence. That’s nothing, though, compared with the terrifying swamp monster haunting their campsite, a catastrophe befalling Ms. Martinez, and a mysterious disaster threatening the future of camp itself.

With their very survival on the line, will science be enough to save the day?


“Wholesome entertainment for preteens, offering positivity without didacticism.”

“It’s one thing to have children’s books about scientists or podcasts or stories about strong women in STEM, but it’s another world entirely when your children get to feel represented by the characters they’re reading about. The characters in the Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad series are diverse, smart, and sure of themselves the way all middle school girls are—through their dreams and newly acquired skills they’re still getting used to.”

About the Author

VALERIE TRIPP is the co-creator of the American Girl book series that includes titles featuring Felicity, Josefina, Kit, Maryellen, Molly, and Samantha. Tripp also wrote American Girl’s Wellie Wishers titles, Hopscotch Hill School titles, numerous leveled readers, songs, stories, skills book pages, and plays for educational publishers. Tripp is writer and editorial director of the Boys Camp series, and a writer, editor, and art editor for Sterling Publishing Company. Tripp received a B.A. and honors as a member of the first co-educated class at Yale University and a master’s of education degree from Harvard University.


  • Five (5) winners will receive the complete 3-book Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad series: Absolute Hero, Newton’s Flaw, and The Law of Cavities
  • US/Canada only
  • Ends 11/13 at 11:59pm ET
  • Enter via the Rafflecopter below
  • Visit the other stops on the tour for more chances to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Blog Tour Schedule:

October 31st BookHounds
November 1st Teen Librarian Toolbox
November 2nd Pragmatic Mom
November 3rd A Dream Within a Dream
November 4th From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors