Unlocking the power of stories with a mystical Korean tiger, Tae Keller's 'When You Trap a Tiger' cast a spell on readers around the world, winning the prestigious Newbery Medal this year.
Told in a uniquely Korean-American narrative, the 27 year old author won the prestigious Newbery Medal for 2021, with her second middle-grade novel about a young Korean-American girl named Lily.
The quiet protagonist finds herself exploring her identity and heritage, as she bargains with a mystical Korean tiger in the hope of healing her beloved grandmother who was full of magical Korean folktales.
"I think that there is a feeling sometimes at least with people in America, that, that people should fit into one box and they should be one thing or the other, like they should be Korean or American, but not Korean-American, or they should be white or Asian, but not biracial. And so I hope that in telling stories like these, that kids who don't necessarily fit into one box can feel like they can be more than one thing and they can embrace their whole identity."
Inspired by Korean folk stories that often feature tigers, which symbolize courage, power and resilience, Keller's journey to writing the book began by revisiting the tales she'd heard from her own grandmother, as a biracial child in Hawaii.
Along the way, she was also emboldened by the strength of Korean women who had suffered greatly and silently throughout the generations, especially during the Japanese occupation of the nation.
"Korean women especially have such a dark history and a lot of trauma in that history. And I'm so inspired that even despite how dark it is and that trauma, that they have been able to tell some of their stories. And I just think that's so inspiring. And if they're able to tell their stories, then I should be able to tell mine as well, and also honor their stories in any way that I can."
Keller hopes to continue reaching children and young adults with books that inspire understanding and the exploration of identity amid diversity.
The Newbury Award, is regarded the most prestigious annual award in children's literature, has been given since 1922 by the American Library Association.
Oh Soo-young, Arirang News.