Guest Blogger Post: WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER
“The tiger story.” That story always felt special, like there was a secret shimmering beneath the words. “Catch it for me,” she’d tell us, and Sam and I would reach our hands into the air, clenching our fists like we were grabbing stars. (p.9)
WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER by Tae Keller felt like we were grabbing points of light and hope in a world of darkness. There are many ways it felt distinguished.
In delineation of character, everyone has a purpose in the story and even minor characters like Joe the librarian show several sides of their personality before the end of the book. Some of the characters start out feeling like stereotypes but as Lily learns more about them, they become more fully realized and distinct. Lily starts out as a Quiet Asian Girl (QAG) and slowly works on finding the strength to fight for her family. She stops wanting to be the invisible girl and shows the tiger inside her. Her change was slow with steps forward and back in standing up for herself, making the change more believable to me.
To me the style was also different than the other books I read this year. The difference was the stories within the larger story. Periodically there was a chapter in the book where a story was told that was like Korean mythology or folktales, but also worked as metaphors for what was going on in the present or had happened in the past. This was often used to show different perspectives or tell hard parts of the past to the characters. The reason this worked so well was because of the theme of the book.
The theme seems to be about stories that have the power to change us by both healing and hurting. The stories from a grandmother told to a daughter and granddaughters help the next generation. The stories and history of strong Korean women who are as fierce as the tigers in their myths and legends are passed down from generation to generation. The QAG becomes the tiger who stands up to be heard. The power of story and how it changes us was shown with the Korean myths shared in the book, but also in the family stories told. The sisters shared memories of their father as they grieved for their dying grandmother. The grandmother shared stories of their mother as a young girl with her daughters so they would know her better.
The book does leave more open the question of whether the tiger was real. There was a lot about the power of believing, but there was also some talk of dreams and mugwort as a hallucinogen. I find these questions help a story like this stick with me as I contemplate the answer.
—but maybe the world is bigger than I thought. Maybe there is room for disappearing tigers and captured stars. (p.50)
Guest Blogger Cheryl has been working in a public library in Northern Indiana for over 20 years. She does story time for preschoolers and enjoys reading young adult and children’s books.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
SLJ Blog Network