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Interview with 2021 Newbery Medal winner Tae Keller on 'When You Trap a Tiger'
Updated: 2021-02-19 05:52:15 KST
Last month, author Tae Keller was chosen to receive the 2021 John Newbery Medal for her book When You Trap a Tiger.
The 27-year-old author's second middle-grade novel is about a young Korean-American girl who finds herself exploring her identity and heritage as she bargains with a mystical Korean tiger in the hope of healing her sick grandmother.
The Newbery Medal is widely known as the most prestigious award in children's literature, given annually since 1922 by the American Library Association to "the most distinguished book in the category published the previous year."
And this year's award was all the more exciting and meaningful for Koreans everywhere, as Keller won the 100th Newberry Medal, and also the year's best Asian/Pacific American literature.
Her novel hit bookstores in Korea this week and today we have the honour of speaking with Tae Keller who joins us from Seattle.


Let's talk about your book. First of all, congratulations Now, this book was very much inspired by your experience of hearing Korean folk tales from your own grandmother. Now you've been able to tell her your own. How did she like your book?
What was her reaction to the award?


It must have been an incredible moment being awarded the most prestigious prize in Children's Literature, especially the 100th of its kind, and especially as an Asian-American. What was that like? What was your favourite reaction?

You said your journey to writing this book began when you told someone in college that you were one quarter Korean and then you felt compelled to find the Korean folk tales you'd heard as a child. Then you ended up writing your own. It in a way seems to correlate with the way your protagonist Lily discovers both her family's past and the strength of her own voice, as she unlocks powerful stories. How did writing this book and trapping your own tiger change you?


You tell a story about a family of four Korean women and girls and each of them are strong in their own way and hanging onto hope that their circumstances would get better. Did Korean women throughout history have a special meaning for you as you wrote this book?

What are some stories or issues you hope will be shared more with the world from Korea?


I think one of the lessons I got from your book was that stories are meant to be shared and they have the magic of connecting people not only within families and cultures but in wider, diverse communities too.
Also as a Korean who grew up outside of Korea, it wasn't easy to figure out who I was and also explain my culture to others. It would have helped if I'd been able to read about characters like Lily who go through similar things. Was this also something you experienced, and do you think having more diversity in children's literature has started to change that?

Many teens with international backgrounds are often asked and ask themselves which country or nationality they feel more attached to. And then you feel compelled to choose. What would be your answer to teens going through this?


Both your protagonists in the Science of Breakable Things and When You Trap a Tiger are in their early teens, developing their biracial identities while trying to help someone they love. What do you think compels you to write middle-grade literature, dealing with these kinds of issues?

It must have taken an enormous amount of time and research. Were there any fun or weird facts you discovered in the process?


What is one key message or takeaway you hope readers will get from your latest book?

Do you have another book you're working on? If so, what can you tell us about it so far?


This is where we'll wrap up today. It was wonderful speaking with you.
Tae Keller, Newbery Award winning author of 'When You Trap a Tiger.'
Thank you for your time.



Reporter : osy@arirang.com