5 Questions with Tae Keller

Tae Keller, who won the 2021 Newbery Medal for When You Trap a Tiger, talks about wanting to give back after the "unfathomable stroke of luck" of winning the award.

Photo of Tae Keller and When You Trap a Tiger cover
Photo by Saavedra Photography


Winning awards can be life-changing. That’s definitely true if the honor is the Caldecott, Newbery, or Printz. SLJ asked past winners of the Big Three about their fondest memories of receiving the award, the biggest challenge after, and their words of advice for this year’s winners—who will be announced Monday, January 22 during the Youth Media Awards ceremony.

Tae Keller, who won the 2021 Newbery Medal for When You Trap a Tiger, talks about wanting to give back after the "unfathomable stroke of luck" of winning the Newbery.

Rules and criteria aside, what makes a book Newbery worthy?
It's the heart-on-the-page honesty that, for me, really makes a book special—Newbery or not.

What is your fondest memory of winning the award?
The first few days after I found out—and even the call itself—are a blur for me, but I vividly remember calling my editor. After my husband (who listened in on the call), she was the first person I told. She'd always believed in the book, and she pushed me to make it better, even when I didn't think I could.

What is the biggest challenge for an author after winning?
Winning the Newbery is an almost unfathomable stroke of luck. I don't mean this to be self-deprecating—I'm proud of the books I write—but to be born in the time and place I was, to be supported as a writer both in childhood and adulthood, and then to win an award in a field with a high degree of subjectivity? Of course that's luck. And that luck is a gift I don't take lightly.

In interviews that year, I talked a bit about pressure in regard to writing my next book, and I certainly felt that; but I felt it even more when I thought about giving back. How could I take this enormous gift and use it to give back to kids, to writers, to my personal and professional communities? It took a few years to figure out how to do this in a way that felt right for me, but now that I have, I feel like I can carry the weight and honor of this award much better.

Any advice for this year’s winner?
Take some time for yourself. It's an incredibly busy year, so enjoy the public whirlwind as much as you can, but don't feel guilty about saying "no" when you need to. A lot has changed all at once! You need time to process it.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on my next middle school book! I spent some time writing for younger elementary, with the "Mihi Ever After" series, and now I'm thrilled to return to middle school...which is a sentence I never thought I'd write!

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing