MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

Upper Elem/MS Fiction – Beyond the Bright Sea; Crooked Sixpence; Amina’s Voice; Thick as Thieves

Wolk, Lauren. Beyond the Bright Sea.Dutton: 2017. 978-1-101-99485-6. 304pp. $16.99. Gr 4-7.

Twelve-year-old Crow is an islander through and through. She knows how to harvest mussels and lobsters, how to navigate a skiff through choppy water, and how to coax garden vegetables from rocky, sandy soil. But Crow is also full of questions, and none of them have simple answers. Why was she abandoned as a newborn and sent to sea alone in a small boat? Where did she come from, and why did she wash up on the shores of Massachusetts’ Cuttyhunk Island? Who were her parents, and where are they today? When curiosity gets the best of her and Crow investigates a fire burning on a nearby deserted island, she sets into motion a chain of events that takes her on an incredible, and at times dangerous, journey as she begins uncovering answers to her heart’s deepest questions. At her side are her adoptive father, Osh, and their kind-hearted neighbor, Miss Maggie, both of whom offer wisdom and advice as Crow pieces together her personal history.   THOUGHTS:  This title will satisfy fans of Wolk’s Newbery Honor-winning Wolf Hollow. It is also beautifully written, and it’s elegantly crafted sentences, perfectly sprinkled foreshadowing, and well-placed clues make it a good choice for a read-aloud.

Historical Fiction    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD



Twelve-year-old Crow is happy living on an isolated island off the coast of Massachusetts with her wise and loving foster father, Osh, who has taught her everything she needs to know: how to fish, how to set a lobster trap, how to garden, how to cook, how to row.  But, she still yearns to learn the story of her own life. Crow knows she washed up on the island on a skiff as a newborn babe, but no one knows for sure where she came from.  Like Osh, and unlike their close friend and neighbor, Miss Maggie, she isn’t white. People think she might have come from the deserted nearby island of Penikese which used to harbor a leper colony. As a result, most of the other islanders, fearing Crow may be contagious, won’t get close to her. Crow struggles to reconcile their hurtful behavior with the many good qualities she sees in them. Despite Osh’s misgivings, Crow is determined to visit Penikese and learn the truth about her past. Crow’s search for her heritage leads her little family straight into danger, and she, Osh, and Maggie all must wrestle with the problem of whether some questions are better left unanswered.  Hidden treasure, coded messages, and a terrifying villain all play a role in the story, and the stakes grow higher and higher as the pages are turned. THOUGHTS: Wolk’s writing is unbelievably gorgeous; the book is worth reading simply for the pleasure of enjoying her finely crafted sentences. The story starts out slowly, but soon the pace picks up. By the middle it becomes a page-turner, and the ending is truly heart-pounding. A must-buy for middle school libraries, and a more-than-worthy follow-up to Wolk’s Newbery-honor book Wolf Hollow.  

Historical Fiction     Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Bell, Jennifer. The Crooked Sixpence. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-553-49844-8. 309pp. $14.59. Gr 4-7.

After their grandmother takes a tumble and ends up in the emergency room, eleven-year-old Ivy and her fourteen-year-old brother Seb’s world is turned upside down. They are whisked into a secret underground city called Lundinor that is hidden beneath the streets of London. Lundinor is filled with enchanted “uncommon” objects that have special powers. Colanders filter the air, bike bells chime navigational directions, and carrying a candle makes a person invisible. Lundinor is filled with traders, both living and dead,  who barter with each other, trying to acquire the most useful objects. When Ivy and Seb are arrested and their parents are abducted, they learn some important family history involving their grandmother’s unexplained disappearance from Lundinor more than forty years earlier. They also learn about the most valuable uncommon object of them all, something called The Great Uncommon Good. Ivy and Seb are in a race against the clock, trying to locate this mysterious, powerful object before time runs out and their parents are lost forever. Readers will immediately be drawn into this adventure-filled fantasy, and they will root for Ivy and Seb as they try to clear their family name and hunt for one of the most powerful uncommon objects of them all. This is the first in a planned trilogy, and readers will be excited to hear how this fast-paced adventure continues in the story’s next installment.   THOUGHTS: This title will be popular with both girls and boys who enjoy fast-paced action fantasy that is a little on the scary side.

Fantasy      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Khan, Hena. Amina’s Voice. Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-48149-206-5  197pp. $16.99  Gr. 3-7.

Twelve-year-old Pakistanti-American Amina Khokar has a beautiful voice, but stage fright keeps her from sharing her gift. When her uncle insists she take part in a Quran recitation competition, Amina is petrified. Meanwhile, Amina’s best friend, Korean-American Soojin, tells Amina she is thinking of “Americanizing” her name to “Susan,” which leads Amina feeling threatened and unsure of her own cultural identity. Soojin’s new friendship with a girl Amina dislikes doesn’t help matters between them, especially when Amina makes a serious, though unintentional, mistake that further threatens their bond. However, when the local Islamic center is vandalized, Amina finds support where she least expects it, and discovers wells of courage within her she hadn’t known existed.  THOUGHTS:  Amina is a charming, empathetic heroine dealing with growing pains that will be familiar to many middle schoolers–all told through the lens of a Pakistani-American/Islamic experience.  A delightful, not-to-be-missed read from a much-needed viewpoint.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD


Turner, Megan Whalen. Thick as Thieves. Greenwillow Books, 2017. 978-0-06-256824-3. $17.99. 337 p. Gr. 6 and up.

Turner returns to Attolia and the world of the thief Eugenides with this stand-alone novel. Kamet is an ambitious slave in the court of Mede. He has position and power and enjoys both. The beatings by his master are an unfortunate price to be paid, and when a shadowy stranger offers him the opportunity to escape, Kamet indignantly turns him down. However when Kamet learns his master is dead, poisoned, he knows suspicion will fall on him and he flees. He accepts passage with the stranger , the Attolian, planning on parting company at the first opportunity. However, Kamet has never experienced life outside the palace and is poorly equipped to survive on the run.  He realizes he must depend on the Attolian to stay alive.  At the end of their journey, Kamet not only learns why the King of Attolia, Eugenides, desires his presence, but also discovers that the Attolian has become a friend.   THOUGHTS:  The joy of this book is the journey, both for Kamet and the reader. Turner’s world-building is exquisite (and the thoughtful map on the endpapers is delightfully useful) and writing lovely. The reader knows no more than Kamet as to why the King of Attolia wishes to steal Kamet away from Mede, and what awaits him when he arrives in Attolia.

Fantasy    Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

The Shadow Hero


Yang, Gene Luen and Sonny Liew. The Shadow Hero. New York: First Second, 2014. 978-1-59643-697-8. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Distinguished graphic storyteller Gene Luen Yang teams up with master illustrator Sonny Liew to give readers a glimpse into the origins story of The Green Turtle, who may be the first Asian American superhero. Based on the short lived, five-volume comic by cartoonist Chu Hing for Blazing Comics, Yang creates his own fascinating and significant tale about one man’s quest to become a superhero and fight crime in Chinatown during the 1940s. When the Ch’ing Dynasty collapses in China, four shadow spirits come to council to decide the best way to protect their homeland. Unable to reach an agreement, the turtle spirit hides in the shadow of a drunk man he discovers asleep in the cargo hold of a ship bound for America. Years later, in Chinatown, nineteen-year-old Hank works alongside his father in the family grocery store. His mother, convinced that there is a better life out there for her son, attempts to make Hank into a superhero. At first, Hank resists, but when tragedy strikes his family, he realizes that fighting crime- and ending the many injustices in Chinatown- may be his true calling. With the help of the turtle spirit, Hank’s journey is inspiring and culturally significant as traditional Chinese and Cantonese traditions are infused with the comic book world of super heroes. Yang smartly uses humor and wit throughout the story, and Liew’s illustrations are relevant to the time period explored while remaining faithful to comic culture. This is an absolute must for any graphic novel collection.

Graphic Novel     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

This book was wonderful; I knew I’d enjoy it, but it certainly exceeded expectations. The story and artwork compliment one another beautifully, and I was completely engaged. Normally I glance over the imagery in graphic novels and find myself focusing on the words, but Liew’s artwork is incredible, and the spirit shadow’s presence is woven into the frames in a way that makes you slow down and really appreciate the artwork. Yang’s storytelling is fulfilling and funny, in a way that both kids and adults can enjoy, which makes it so great to recommend. This one has been flying off the shelves, and I’m glad that we could add a diverse title to our graphic novel collection!

China Dolls…Adult fiction for Young Adults


See, Lisa. China Dolls. New York: Random House, 2014. 978­0812992892. 400 p.$27.00. Gr.10+.

Lisa See has again struck gold with her latest novel, China Dolls. Similar to her past novels, the story tells of the relationships among Asian women and comments on the racial and gender inequalities that occurred in American history. This novel takes place entirely in the United States, mainly San Francisco, before, during, and after WWII. The plot centers around three girls who meet and become dancers in Chinese nightclubs in San Francisco. Grace arrives in San Francisco after fleeing her small town in Ohio
to escape her abusive father. She meets Helen, a member of a wealthy family but also a young widow with a sad past. They team up with Ruby, a Japanese dancer who is masquerading as Chinese in order to get a job in a club. Their lives are forever intertwined as they fight for higher positions in nightclubs and the entertainment world, the affections of men, and the affection they feel for each other as WWII begins and their lives change. The story is told in alternating chapters in first person by each girl.  Through this technique, the reader gains insight into the actions of each woman and the author creates characters that are multidimensional and engaging while evoking a feeling of sympathy for each girl that would have been noticeably absent had the story been told from one point of view. In keeping with See’s style, the book is extensively researched and brings to light a somewhat lost part of history while engaging the reader in a wonderful story of the relationships among Chinese and Japanese men and women in the 1940s. Give this title to students who enjoy historical fiction and want to read about the homefront during WWII.

Historical (WWII) Fiction   Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School
I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Lisa See at the National Book Festival in August, and I just happened to be reading China Dolls during that time. I was delighted to hear more about Lisa See’s experience and research while preparing to write and subsequently writing this engaging novel.  Her style is reminiscent of Amy Tan, who I absolutely love. I still remember buying all of Tan’s books on ebay when I was in high school, and proudly display them on my shelf to this day. I loved Tan’s descriptions of the interactions between mothers and daughters, and See’s similar method of illustrating and highlighting the relationships among female friends and family is equally enjoyable and enlightening. I was ecstatic when I discovered See, and look forward to each new title that she releases.

I did book talk this novel for our 11th grade Honors and Academic English classes. I will also be sharing this with our 10th grade Honors English students when they come in to select their historical fiction books in a few weeks. So many students have enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in the past that I know this title will be enjoyed as well.