Ms. Ila’s Middle Grade Reading Club: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

My May book choice is the 2021 Newbery Medal winner, When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.  The John Newbery Medal is awarded by the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) each year "to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."  In 2021, the Newbery Medal was awarded to Tae Keller for When You Trap a Tiger.

Korean folklore and real life merge in this mystical story about finding oneself.  If you enjoy Korean culture, you will be sure to enjoy this book.  I found the Author's Note at the end of the book to be especially helpful in aiding me to understand why the author chose to write her own cultural story.  There is a saying, "write what you know," and When You Trap a Tiger is based upon all of the stories she heard while she was growing up.  Do you have stories that you have been told that resonate with you?

This kind of fiction would fit in the genre called fantasy because of the mystical element.

I am not too familiar with Korean culture.  When I am unfamiliar with a culture like in this story, I like to read about the culture in order to understand more about what motivates the characters.

Korean Culture

Author Keller explains in the Author's Note that Korea was mythologically formed.  She explains that Korea was formed by a bear who was transformed into a woman.  She believes this represents Korean women and their "silence and endurance."

As such, you will find a quiet strength in Lily, who worries about being a QAG, "Quiet Asian Girl."  Though Lily seems to be embarrassed about being a QAG, I thought she was just as strong as Sam, but in a different way.  Being different from others is not a weakness.  When combined with the strength of others, different strengths can become an unstoppable force.

In this story, I suggest reading about South Korea and North Korea in Worldmark Enclopedia of Cutures and Daily Life.  You will need your library card and PIN.

Once you have an understanding of Korean culture, it is easier to understand Korean Folklore.  Where can you find folklore at the Library?

Folklore and Fairy Tales

In the Library, you will be able to find the section called Folk and Fairy Tales in the Picture Book Area.  The Picture Book Area is located in the Children's Area of the Library.  You will find familiar stories like Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, etc. in this section.

Well-known storytellers in this section include Hans Christian Andersen, Aesop, The Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose, etc.

The Dewey Decimal Classification number for many Folk and Fairy Tales is J398.2 (J is for juvenile.)

You might wonder why fictional works like Cinderella are shelved in a non-fiction area, J398.2?  Though stories like Cinderella are not real, they are shelved with social sciences because the stories are based on some truth or instruct us in some way.  For instance, the Korean origin story about the bear and human woman is based upon the truth that Korea was formed at some time in the past.

If you are curious about learning about more Korean folklore, here is a book you can try!  It is handed down by a Korean grandmother.  In addition, here are other terms to use when you search for Korean folk and fairy tales:

After reading this book, you might want to find read-alike books.  You can search Novelist K-8 Plus for "folklore" or "fairy tales" and search our catalog.

Questions to Consider

  • What do you think the tiger means to Lily in this story?
  • Have you ever known anyone to be sick like Halmoni?  How did you deal with their sickness?
  • Several deaths are discussed in this story.  Who do you think you can talk to if you want to know more about death or sickness?
  • Why do you think Lily and Sam's Mom returned home to Halmoni?  Was it just to help Halmoni or was it something more?
  • Sometimes people may unintentionally hurt our feelings.  Do you think Lily's "muddy" reaction to Ricky and his friends helped or hindered Lily's friendships?  In what ways?
  • Because Sam is older, she seems wiser.  Do you think that is true?

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the Comments section below!

By the way, next month's book will be Rick by Alex Gino in celebration of QUILTBAGP+ Month!