Korean American author Tae Keller has received the 2021 John Newbery Medal for her second middle grade novel, When You Trap a Tiger, according to The New York Times.
The Newbery Medal is offered “for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” according to the medal’s awarding organization the American Library Association.
When You Trap a Tiger, published by Random House Children’s Books for Young Readers, also received the 2020-2021 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature.
When You Trap a Tiger follows a biracial girl named Lily and her family as they move to support her sick halmoni—grandmother. One day, a magical tiger eerily similar to the creatures of Halmoni’s Korean folktales appears and offers Lily a deal: return the star stories that Halmoni stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health.
For Keller, the process of contending with Korean heritage, both Lily’s and her own, in writing When You Trap a Tiger was difficult yet ultimately rewarding.
“The truth was, I wasn’t ready to write it. Not at first,” Keller said in an interview with Pop! Goes the Reader. “I had to learn a lot along the way, both in terms of craft and history. But the more I dove into my Korean history, the more comfortable I felt in my own skin.”
Keller is the daughter of Nora Okja Keller, a Korean and German American award-winning author whose own novels (Fox Girl, Comfort Woman) consider Korean history and the bonds of family. As a biracial person of color herself, Keller is as grateful for her Asian/Pacific Award as her Newbery Medal.
“This book was so much about the questions about being biracial and if I belonged in the Asian community,” she said in an interview with Publishers Weekly. “So, the Asian/Pacific award in its own way is so meaningful for me and so validating. I hope that biracial kid readers will see that and know that they’re part of something bigger too.”
Keller’s personal achievement stands amongst a collection of victories for children’s authors of color. Of the five Randolph Caldecott winners, awarded “for the most distinguished American picture book for children,” all five were women, and four out of five were BIPOC.
Various other Asian American children’s authors received awards and honors including now two-time Newbery Award recipient Erin Entrada Kelly, who is a Filipinx American, for her novel We Dream of Space and Christina Soontornvat, a Thai American who received a Newbery Honor for her middle school fantasy novel A Wish in the Dark.
Asian Americans posted about their excitement for Keller and her fellow AAPI authors on Twitter.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story.