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The Tale of Jack Frost
by David Melling
Barron's 2003

A little boy comes to live in an enchanted forest filled with magical creatures. This mysterious boy has a special talent— whatever he touches turns to ice. Nearby, nasty goblins are trying to take over the enchanted forest for themselves. Can Jack foil their plans?

The Story
David Melling's text is minimal, appropriate for such a visual story, and the voice is accessible and friendly. Despite the preface, the relationship among the forest, the goblins and magic is not clear. I would have liked to learn more of the forest's magic, how it manifests itself (Jack seems to be the only creature who exhibits magical abilities), and the goblins' motivation for wanting that magic. There is mention of the forest being "opened" now, but it doesn't get fleshed out. If this is a danger to the forest creatures, wouldn't they want to try and close the forest?

The Illustrations
The visual world Melling has created is fascinating. All of the forest creatures are original designs, from the snow beetles with human hands and feet to the bald, stripped fairy creatures that sport little tails. There's a cynical unicorn, a hedgehog/aardvark creature and a tall, bovine thing with interestingly coiffed fur. Even the trees have personalities. The backgrounds are every bit as interesting as the foregrounds.

There are a few visual inconsistencies (the illustrations contradict the text which states that Jack's skin is "white as snow"; the time of year is not clear— snow, ivy, sunflowers, falling leaves and bare trees all exist at the same time), but everything is drawn with such confidence and skill. Melling's style is refreshing with the perfect mix of realistic details drawn with an animated flair. The thin ink line and simple watercolor give just enough detail without being fussy or precious.

The forest's color palette is ice blues, creams, golds, and grays. The goblins are bolder with yellow greens, reds and blues. The book design is robust; there is a good mixture of double spreads, bleeds, spots, vignettes, and single illustrations that move the story along. Even the end papers are a special treat; they are covered with pre-production sketches of all the characters, showing Melling's design process.

Melling did such an admirable job creating a believable visual world— all in all, this book was an enjoyable experience. I am looking forward to his next book. - L.F.

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