I love it when happy accidents like this happen – two very different books with similar themes popping up back-to-back in my TBR. Here we have two stories involving stories, stars, and close grandparent-grandchild relationships.
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. Random House, 2020. ISBN 978-1524715700. Read from library copy.
Lily’s mother is moving them in with her Halmoni. Lily isn’t sure what to think of this move, though her teen sister is just angry about the disruption to her plans. But on the way to the house, in pouring rain that reminds them all of the weather the night Lily’s father died in a car accident, Lily sees a giant tiger in the street in front of them. Halmoni has always told them stories of tigers, telling Lily and her sister that tigers aren’t to be trusted.
But Halmoni is sick – very clearly very sick. And when the tiger comes back, telling Lily that Halmoni stole stories from the tiger and that Lily can save Halmoni by bringing the tiger the star jars in which they were trapped, Lily wants to put her grandmother’s health first. As you’d expect, there are many beautiful Korean-inspired stories woven through the narrative, stories of sisters and tigers and stars.
In the non-magical world, Lily explores the library across the street, working with some difficulty to make a friend and learning about the many people who love her glamorous Halmoni and the roles she plays in the community – sides of her grandmother she never knew about because her grandmother had always come to visit them in the past. I know writing in accents is easy to do wrong, but I really appreciated that we can tell from the writing here both that English isn’t Halmoni’s first language, but also that she’s a very intelligent woman with a lot to communicate. There’s also some learning about her sister, whom I realized was falling for the friendly (female) library aide long before Lily did. Things may not turn out the way Lily hopes, but there is magic and power in love and stories. This was just beautiful, and I really loved the blend of magic and everyday life.
Though the tone is quite different, I couldn’t help thinking of the graphic novel Where’s Halmoni, which also has a Korean grandmother with magical secrets.
The Magic in Changing Your Stars by Leah Henderson. Sterling, 2020. ISBN 978-1454934066. Read from library copy.
Ailey loves to dance and rap. He’s sure that his dance skills will help him win a role as the Scarecrow in his school production of The Wiz. When he fails, he’s sure it’s because he forgot his lucky Black Panther watch. Then his grandfather tells him about how he used to tap dance on the street corner in Harlem, and shows him a pair of shoes that Bill “Bojangles” Washington gave him as a kid, with a request to bring them back to him at his theater. Gramps never did bring them back and has regretted it his whole life. When Gramps winds up in the hospital, Ailey digs them out and puts them on… and is transported back in time to 1930s Harlem, where he’s sure his mission is to help a young Gramps believe in himself enough to return the shoes! If only he can find some clothes to cover up his Black Panther jammies, and get Gramps to take him seriously!
While there is a little bit of learning about the norms of the time period (why is everyone wearing church clothes all the time?) and of course some about Bojangles, the focus here is on the personal, on Ailey and his grandfather’s relationship, and the performance issues that have held both of them up. An encounter with a famous gangster adds some action and keeps it from mushiness. All the characters from both the present and the past are named after famous African-Americans, some of whom I recognized and some of whom I learned about in the back matter. A little magic and history mix to make a book with all the feels.
These books have been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.