Corey R. Tabor is the author and illustrator of numerous picture books for children, including Fox the Tiger, winner of the American Library Association’s Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. His latest work is Mel Fell (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, Feb. 2), about a fledgling who isn’t quite ready to fly; it made our list of the Best Picture Books of 2021. In a starred review, Kirkus said the book “encourages children to feel brave, to try, and to believe they can soar.” Tabor answered some questions via email. 

What inspired you to create this book?

I had the idea a few years ago when I was sitting on a bench by a lake. I was looking up at a tall tree, wondering about all the animals who live there and what they might be up to. That got me thinking about how it would be fun to make a book that opens vertically and takes you up and down the tree as you turn the pages. On each spread you’d see a different animal who lives in the tree. I realized I needed a character who would take the reader up and down the tree, and that’s how Mel arrived, boldly leaping from her nest.

What was it like having a book come out in 2021? How did you connect with children in this socially distanced year?

It was certainly different. When publication day came, I knew that, theoretically, my book was out there in the world. But bookstores and libraries were still closed, and it was quite a while before I finally got to see Mel Fell on a shelf. (Not too long ago, when our local library reopened, I was shocked to realize I hadn’t set foot in one in over a year! That was a gut punch for sure.) But I’ve received all kinds of wonderful emails, and even some physical letters, from readers young and old. The connections have all been of the pen-pal variety this year.

Who is the ideal reader for your book, and where would they be reading it?

In my (completely unbiased) opinion, you are never too old or young for a good picture book. I think a tree fort would be a fun place to read Mel Fell. Or snuggled up on a comfy couch. Or at the best place in the world: the public library.

It’s story hour at the library. If you could have anyone in the world present your book to the kids, who would it be?

I think I’d have to leave the job to the experts. Nobody does a picture book justice like a teacher or a children’s librarian. (I’m pretty sure the kids wouldn’t be impressed with whatever celebrity I came up with anyway.)

What children’s book most dazzled you this year?

I loved Lynne Rae Perkins’ The Museum of Everything the first (and second, and third, and 13th) time I read it. The writing feels like it speaks directly to me, and the art is intriguing. (I can’t imagine how much time went into the illustrations.) My 3-year-old loves it, too. We brought the book along on an 18-hour road trip, and you wouldn’t believe how many of those hours he spent poring over this book. I also loved On the Day the Horse Got Outby Audrey Helen Weber (a great title and a great book), The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess by Tom Gauld (so good), and A Home Under the Stars by Andy Chou Musser (literally dazzling, with all those stars).