When You Trap a Tiger
Magical Realism is one of my favorite genres. This type of story intertwines fantasy with the world we’re all familiar with, which I find irresistible. When You Trap a Tiger, from Tae Keller, is an outstanding example of this genre, and has the 2021 Newbury Award to show for it, as well as the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature.
Tigers are a powerful presence in Korean folklore, and their appearance in When You Trap a Tiger has considerable cultural significance. On the drive to move in with her halmoni, or grandmother, Lily sees a tiger in the road. Strangely, the creature isn’t apparent to either her mother or older sister. Later, the tiger visits Lily to tell her that her halmoni has taken something from the tigers, and Lily has to return what was stolen.
This story deals with themes of identity and family—every character in the book deals with who they are and how they relate to each other in a unique way. Stereotypes are also a factor, as Lily’s sister refers to her as a QAG, or Quiet Asian Girl, and Lily herself says she has the power to become invisible. Loss and how we deal with it is a major point as well, leading to some heavy-hearted moments.
Lily is brave and determined, a little awkward at times, but willing to do what it takes to help her halmoni, even if it means dealing with a tiger.
Publisher Random House has released a Discussion Guide for more insight and thoughtful deliberation.
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