Newbery Verdict: When You Trap a Tiger


Book: When You Trap a Tiger (2020)
Author: Tae Keller
Publisher: Random House
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2021)

Opening Lines of the Book…
“I can turn invisible. It’s a superpower, or at least a secret power. But it’s not like in the movies, and I’m not a superhero, so don’t start thing that. Heroes are the stars who save the day. I justdisappear.”


This book won the Newbery this year (2021). I was pretty excited when it was announced since I had the book sitting on my nightstand! I was ready to dive right in.

This is a story about a shy, quiet girl named Lily. She and her mother and sister come to live with their Korean grandmother (Halmoni). Halmoni has always had a special bond with the girls, regaling them with stories from Korean folklore about a tiger that walks around like a man. But Lily soon discovers that something’s wrong with her usually-so-vibrant Halmoni. She confides to Lily that she has stolen the stories and now the tiger wants them back. When Lily starts seeing the tiger, she knows she has to do something to trap it to save the life of her beloved grandmother.

Okay, first off, I like imagination in books. This book, however, crossed a line for my suspension of disbelief. I like the idea, but the tiger conversations bothered me. (Maybe it was my adult-brain kicking in!) I found Lily’s conversations with the tiger slightly worrisome. I know it was all metaphorical, and I liked that to a certain extent. I liked how it connected to the grandmother’s stories. And I even liked reading the stories the tiger tells (I found them very interesting). But the whole thing made me concerned for Lily’s mental health. Maybe it was supposed to be magical realism? If it was, it just felt off to me.

And yet, I loved how Lily and her new friend (the boy she meets at the library) work together to do something to try to help the grandmother (i.e. trapping the tiger). And how the whole grandmother plot unfolds is very compelling and engaging with some wonderful emotional beats.

So, what did I think about the book as a whole?


Ultimately, I will say that I have mixed feelings about this book. I did like all the Korean folklore stories, but the parts about the tiger did bother me enough. (And I really did not like the sister.) While I liked this book, I didn’t love it. Now, I haven’t read all the Newbery contenders for the year, but I did read We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly. Personally, I would have voted for that book over this one.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

13 thoughts on “Newbery Verdict: When You Trap a Tiger

  1. Love your challenge about Newbery books. My personal challenge is to find MG or YA mystery novels to nominate for Agatha Awards. Nominated books have to be published in 2020 for this year’s competition. So far I have SALTWATER SECRETS (Callaghan), CITY SPIES (PONTI), IKENGA (OKORAFOR). Any 2020 mystery suggestions from you or your readers? Beth Schmelzer


  2. I haven’t read this one yet but WE DREAM OF SPACE was at the top of my recommended list the past year. I’ve had similar reactions to past Newbery winners along with many of the intended readers. I do like the story line of WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER and will give it a go sometime in the spring. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love reading stories about Korean culture and so on, so I’m glad I read your review. Sometimes I am surprised with with Newberry winners selections. Agree with both you and Greg about your preferences. I appreciate your honest review. I’m sure there are good things about this book, so I may eventually read it to see what I think. Thanks for sharing today!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had never heard of this book until it won the Newbery, which is strange—I read so many blogs that I would have expected someone to review this book sooner or later if it was that good! 2020 was pretty much the first year I read any MG books published that year, and despite some of them seeming like shoe-ins for the award, not one of them was even an honor, so I am a bit puzzled by this year’s picks as well. I’m glad at least some aspects of this book appealed to you, though—I bought a copy, and I’m hoping to get it read by March or April-ish. Thanks for the great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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