Publishers' Preview: Diversity Five Ways: Five Questions for Tae Keller

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2020 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diversity Five Ways, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In When You Trap a Tiger, Lily discovers that storytelling is life itself.

1. What does it mean to you to “set a story free”?

Tell your story, fully and honestly, even if it scares you. Maybe especially if it scares you.

2. How do you judge what a novelist can take from myth and what she should leave alone?

I don’t think it’s possible to preserve myth — to set it behind glass, never to be touched or stolen or broken. Myth began as an oral tradition, shape-shifting with each storyteller to fit current hopes and anxieties. These tales are meant to evolve, and the beauty of storytelling is that new interpretations don’t erase the originals. They simply give us alternate ways of seeing.

3. What’s the best thing about having a sister?

There’s no one else who grew up with our family, in our community, at our moment in time. That’s incredible, to have someone who just gets it.

4. How would this story be different had you set it in your native Hawaii rather than in Washington State?

I was lucky enough to grow up hapa — mixed race — in Hawaii, where that’s both common and celebrated. When I moved to the mainland, I began to question where and how I fit. Part of this was because of some racist interactions, but even more than other people’s reactions, I was startled by my own. I felt I had to choose between two parts of myself. Much of this book circled around these questions. Why do people tell us we can only be one thing? Why are we so quick to believe that? And how do we set ourselves free?

5. What’s your tolerance for things you can’t explain?

When I was a kid, the world was a mystery. As I grew up, I learned to explain almost everything with logic, science, and a quick Google search. While that’s great, those rare, inexplicable mysteries now feel like a gift. They’re a reminder that there’s still so much to discover.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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