Picture book of the day: falling for the great, tricky Mel Fell

Mel Fell, illustrated and written by Corey R. Tabor, published by Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins), ISBN: 978-0062878014.

The first thing you notice is that you have to hold the book horizontally, perfect for a gem about a baby kingfisher named Mel about to take flight for the first time but then plummeting through the air. And the second thing you notice is how instantly lovable and funny Mel Fell is. Award-winning illustrator/author Corey R. Tabor delivers a delightful, tricky, surprising, inventive (and dare I say it, even inspirational) romp that won me over the moment I first read it, and feels magical every time I revisit it. Tabor serves up a clever surprise halfway through, not only in narrative terms, but in terms of book design. But no worries, this review will be spoiler-free in that regard. I cannot wait to read this in a storytime that includes The Very Impatient Caterpillar and Bear Came Along, two other recent comic delights that make listeners chuckle and say “whoa” at the same time.

As mentioned, Mel Fell stars a brave young bird ready, it seems, to take to the sky. However, Mel startles everyone by diving down, down, down past a tree. A bunch of hilarious supporting characters populate this tree, commenting on Mel’s descent, concerned about her fate. Squirrels, owls and owlets, ants, a spider trapping a fly, bees, even…a….snail. They try to save the seemingly doomed winged little one. Tabor’s text bounces with action-packed urgency. Comical comments from the spectators punctuate the action.

But what is truly striking about Mel Fell: the absolutely fabulous art. Tabor used pencil, colored pencil, and acrylic paint, and then assembled the illustrations digitally. Mel and her co-stars possess hilarious expressions and body language. I really really love the squirrels’ acrobatics. Mel emerges as a protagonist we all want to cheer the moment we first see her. That look of determination. And yet that seeming recklessness that makes readers want to shout “look out Mel!”. But there is a beauty to this art as well. Tabor adds impressive textures to his depiction of this woodland world. The book feels thoughtfully conceived; every image resonates. So yes, it’s funny, very funny, and made with absolute care. Mel Fell will easily make my best of the year list.

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