Mel Fell

Author-illustrator Corey R. Tabor’s exuberant Mel Fell starts with a dramatic announcement from a baby kingfisher named Mel: today, with her mama away, is the day she will learn how to fly. Hiding in a tree hole, her siblings, Pim and Pip, watch with great concern as Mel marches to the end of a little branch and prepares for takeoff. After performing a wondrous aerial somersault, worthy of perfect 10s at some birdy Olympics, Mel plummets with fierce celerity. Look at that branch bounce. Off she goes, taking the reader along with her as she descends.

Tabor immediately hooks the reader with this terrific opening. What follows is a rollicking account that offers multiple surprises and action galore. And lots of laughs, too. Mel Fell makes the reader gasp and giggle at the same time. The best picture book creators know how to serve up expert, effective page-turns. Mel Fell has the audience on the edge of their seats, quickly flipping the pages to see what will happen next to our beloved baby bird. A lot of this has to do with the book’s clever design, one that works beautifully without ever feeling gimmicky.

The very first thing readers will notice about Mel Fell is that they need to turn the book 90 degrees to the right when reading the story. They flip the pages upwards, as Mel falls downwards. The book’s dimensions make the little chirper’s drop feel all the more epic and monumental. A portion of the tall tree appears on the right page of each double-page spread. Mel appears on the bottom half of each spread, zipping to the next page. She has closed her eyes with anticipation. What will become of her?

Tabor’s expert use of comical body language also adds to the story’s success. Each page-turn introduces new animals, all extremely expressive, living on the tree. Many are shocked, while others try in vain to help slow down Mel. Look at Pim and Pip as they cover their eyes with their wings, unable to watch Mel plunge to an unknown fate. An owl parent and offspring seem stunned into inaction, a dazed look on their faces. A scurry of squirrels haphazardly flips through the air with outstretched paws as Mel zooms past. The action is happening so fast that their exclamations (“Blast! “Nuts! “Oof! Aieeeeeee!”) have completely popped out of their light-blue word bubbles. As bees and a spider grab Mel, Tabor puts little lines around their heads to convey their struggle. (At least this chaos helps free a gleeful fly, who had, moments before, been trapped in the spider’s web.) A wise-looking, yellowish snail .. .slowly ... offers ... to ... help while ants form a chain in an effort to assist. This supporting cast, all lovingly rendered, amuses and delights, making strong impressions.

Just when the reader thinks Mel Fell cannot get better, Tabor serves up a fabulous visual twist, one that he (and his art direction team) pull off with impressive finesse. As Mel cruises by a ladybug, the insect yells “Oh no!” and Mel opens her eyes. At the breathless flip of the page, the reader witnesses Mel diving into the water with a ginormous splash that lifts the ladybug into the air. Mel is then seen underwater snapping up an orange fish.

And then some genuine picture-book magic happens. The book asks the reader to turn the book 180 degrees. Suddenly, Mel emerges from the water, fish in beak, and ascends, up and up and up, through the air, back up the ensuing pages. “She flew!” we read, as Mel extends her wings in triumph and the ladybug happily flies next to her. Tabor pulls off this moment with remarkable grace. The instructions about turning the book are easy to follow, thanks to the clear and uncluttered design.

Tabor then reintroduces the supporting animals, who now cheer Mel as she soars back to her nest. In a very funny touch, the spider forms the word “yay” in its web. Some readers might fret about the wide-eyed, startled fish Mel catches, but no worries. A humorous and climactic moment shows the excited Mel dropping the fish while telling Mama about her adventure. I love that the reader hears the (now-unseen) snail offering to help ... catch .. .the ... falling ... fish.

So far, I have emphasized how action-packed and funny Mel Fell is. Tabor demonstrates his skillful comic timing throughout the story (and we all know that comedy, in any form, takes genuine talent to pull off). Mel Fell is a book that constantly surprises the reader, and it feels fresh and alive with each revisit. Even the cover delivers a funny image of Mel flying through the letters that appear in the title, dislodging the “e” in "Mel."

And yet it must be noted that Tabor’s work is also beautiful and surprisingly moving. His illustrations (pencil, colored pencil, and acrylic paint, all digitally assembled) capture the beauty and wonder of this natural world. After experiencing the frantic pace of Mel’s adventure, readers should take a deep breath and take time to explore the details and colors in Tabor’s art — that gorgeous tree, that majestic splash, those verdant endpapers.

Meanwhile, children tackling new milestones will appreciate the story about a resilient little bird. This speaks to the Caldecott criteria that says that a contender “should display respect for children’s understanding, abilities and appreciations.” Mel Fell also gives children a rich visual experience, taking them on a journey that builds and builds to a remarkable life-changing event for the protagonist.

I hope the Caldecott committee will take the plunge and honor this one. 

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Mell Fell here.]


Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson
Brian E. Wilson works as a children’s librarian at the Evanston Public Library in Evanston, IL. He served on the 2015 Odyssey Committee and the 2017 Caldecott Committee. He blogs at Mr. Brian’s Picture Book Picks at
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Susan Dailey

Thanks for your careful evaluation of this book. I agree that it is exuberant, expressive and funny! For me though, the trip upward wasn't as successfully as the trip down. Was I supposed to read from bottom up or not? I did appreciate the raised texture on the paper cover, the limited color palette (I did have to check to see what kingfishers look like) and the simplicity of the compositions.

Posted : Sep 22, 2021 10:47

Martha Parravano

I have yet to see Mell Fell as a physical copy and just can't wait -- it sounds so unbelievably innovative. Without being gimmicky, it sounds. Amazing!

Posted : Sep 16, 2021 01:34

Sam Juliano

Brian Wilson, you have written a magnificent account of this wholly irresistible book, a page turner that ceaselessly enthralls the first graders in the school I teach at. Your exploration of the book's flow, humor and ability to captivate young (and old) readers is extensive and masterful. And you appear to employ the perfect word for this spirited work: "exuberant." The colored pencil and acrylics are gorgeous and the vertical presentation a joy. I agree that Tabor should be in the Caldecott equation is a mighty big way with this one. Again, your entire presentation is rapturous!

Posted : Sep 15, 2021 07:29



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