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A Book Review on "When You Trap a Tiger” by Tae Keller

*This book review contains spoilers

"When You Trap a Tiger” by Tae Keller is a Newbery Medal winner, and a beautiful coming-of-age story. I was absolutely in awe over Keller’s word choices and ability to make ordinary things seem so full of life. Keller has this magnificent, leave-you-breathless gift of incorporating personification into her writing. While many authors have to remind themselves to include this powerful literary device, it seems second nature for Keller.

"When You Trap a Tiger” is a story about one family’s journey from learning about their grandmother’s illness to learning how to deal with her death. Lily, the main character, is able to see and speak with a magical tiger, straight from her grandmother’s stories. When that tiger tells her that she can help heal her grandmother, Lily embarks on a journey to do everything in her power to help.

What makes this book unique is the family’s Korean heritage. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that features a Korean family and their beautiful fairy tales/legends. Not only did I learn a little about Korean culture, I also learned a few Korean words.

Recommended Age Group?

The publisher’s recommended age group is 8-12. I agree with this age range, but

would probably choose to wait until age 9 or 10 to read this novel. I also wouldn’t hesitate to read this with 13 year olds, as the themes relate really well to 13-year-old issues.

Illness and death make up a large theme in this novel. Not only is Halmoni (Lily’s grandmother) ill, years ago, Lily’s father also passed away in a car accident. The family is in a constant state of learning how to deal with the pain of losing loved ones. There are also themes of identity and finding out what you’re capable of. Friendship and family are also important themes that run throughout the entirety of this novel.

In the author’s note, Keller says, “...somewhere along the way, I’d started dividing my blood into parts.” In many ways, this novel is a reminder for people to embrace their cultural heritage and be proud of the skin you’re in.

Classroom Approved?

This book is classroom-approved, but best suited for grades 4-8.

A few things to note: there is some seldom used mild language in this book. Also, Lily’s teenage sister, Sam, finds herself building a relationship with her female friend, Jensen. This relationship isn’t talked about in-depth, but I mention it because some teachers try to avoid books with crushes or dating.

This book would make for a great read-aloud, as Keller’s writing style is very unique! The alliteration and personification alone will get your student’s attention, and the story will have them guessing and wondering the whole way through.

As always, it is recommended that you pre-read the book before reading it to your students.

Tae Keller's "When You Trap a Tiger"!

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