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Children's Fiction General

Melena's Jubilee

The Story of a Fresh Start

by (author) Zetta Elliott

illustrated by Aaron Boyd

Tilbury House Publishers
Initial publish date
Jun 2021
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2016
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2021
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 5 to 8
  • Grade: k to 3


Junteenth Celebration

Named to Bank Street College of Education’s prestigious 2016 Best Children’s Books of the Year with a star for outstanding merit.

Named to Bayviews Outstanding List (online journal for the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California (ACL))

2017 Skipping Stones Honor Book

After being sent to bed early the previous night, Melena wakes up to a new day with a song in her heart.

Forgive and be forgiven. It sounds so appealing—why doesn’t it happen every day? Finding herself forgiven on a rain-scrubbed morning after a difficult day, Melena seizes her fresh start and shares the song in her heart with her family and friends. It’s a day of new beginnings. It’s Melena’s jubilee.

This story introduces children to the concept of jubilee, which stresses the important principles of debt relief, generosity, and forgiveness. Aaron Boyd’s mixed-media illustrations are as bright and vivid as a sun-washed day.

"I write predominantly about Black children because I grew up believing I was invisible in the real world, and it hurt just as much to discover that I was also invisible in the realm of the imaginary. I write the books I wish I had had as a child."—Zetta Elliott

About the authors

Born in Canada, Zetta Elliott moved to Brooklyn in 1994 to pursue her PhD in American Studies at NYU. Her poetry has been published in several anthologies, and her plays have been staged in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland. Her essays have appeared in Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, and The Huffington Post. Her first picture book, Bird, won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books' New Voices Contest; it was named Best of 2008 by Kirkus Reviews, a 2009 ALA Notable Children's Book, and BIRD won the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Elliott's first young adult novel, A Wish After Midnight, has been called "gripping," "a revelation...vivid, violent and impressive history." Ship of Souls was published in February 2012; it was included in Booklist's Top Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Titles for Youth and was a finalist for the 2013 Phillis Wheatley Award. Her latest novel, THE DEEP, was released in November 2013. She has published several illustrated books under her own imprint, Rosetta Press. She currently lives in Brooklyn.
Learn more at:

Zetta Elliott's profile page

Aaron Boyd has illustrated numerous picture books, including Calling the Water Drum, Janna and the Kings,and Babu's Song for Lee & Low Books, as well as the chapter book The Story of Civil Rights Hero John Lewis. His work has been recognized by the Children's Africana Book Award and the International Literacy Association (ILA). He lives with his wife, son, and dog in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can visit him online at

Aaron Boyd's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Elliott (Bird) weaves a contemplative and thought-provoking story of new beginnings as a brown-skinned girl named Melena wakes up “with a song in my heart.” ...Befitting the sense of grace that Melena clings to, Boyd’s (Luigi and the Barefoot Races) vibrant mixed-media images evoke the heft and poise of stained glass windows, whether showing Melena and her elders picking garden vegetables or the girl and her friends perched on the jungle gym, gazing at swirling clouds. An extensive author’s note delves into the historical concept of jubilee and ties the book’s messages to grassroots activism, social justice, and community self-improvement. Ages 4–10. (Oct.)" - PW

"Little Melena learns the power of a fresh start... In Melena, Elliott creates a thoughtful, upbeat character whose impulses are convincingly childlike. In between her musings on fresh starts, she plays with her friends (a multiracial group) and helps her grandmother harvest lunch from the garden...Boyd's bright, multimedia illustrations depict a warm, loving family and a cheery urban neighborhood. An author's note provides context on the concept of jubilee—forgiveness—and tips for readers on making their own fresh starts. This cheerful meditation on starting over features a character that's hard not to love. (Picture book. 4-7)" - Kirkus Reviews

"This is a great reminder to children of the joys that kindness, generosity, and grace can bring to you. Instead of forcing her way through the day, Melena considers others first and treats the day as a fresh start, putting all her problems from yesterday behind her. Recommended for one-on-one reading with older pre-readers, or for independent reading for young readers. The seven tips to your own Fresh Start Day are a nice addition, as is the author's note on the significance of the concept of jubilee in African-American history and the importance of debt relief to struggling peoples and nations." - Jessica Rodrigues, Net Galley

"Melena awakes to a beautiful day with the feeling of new possibilities in her heart. The day before, one of Gramma’s friends tripped over toys Melena forgot to put away, and the fall caused her mother’s vase to break. On this morning, Melena puts her toys away, makes her bed, and chooses peace and kindness—she doesn’t hit her brother with a pillow and doesn’t ask for money she had lent out the previous week.Instead, she shares what she has and looks for ways to enjoy the things that are sometimes taken for granted. Colorful, collage like illustrations of brown-skinned Melena and her friends and family appear in rich, saturated tones and bright backgrounds, evoking the sunshiney atmosphere of the story. An author’s note provides some additional background about the history of the Day of Jubilee and its importance to the African American community. Young readers might be moved to consider a more positive outlook after reading about Melena’s kind choices and reflect on her wisdom as she appreciates the day from the start." - Selenia Paz, Booklist

"This book is so nice. It is happy because Melena is happy about what she has, and she makes good choices and thinks about other people. She decides not to be rude, like she knows she can hurt her brother but decides not to, and then she feels really good about doing good things. You will like reading about how Melena has a fresh start. You can have a fresh start every day, too!" - Liesel, Age 5, Kids Book Buzz

Other titles by Zetta Elliott

Other titles by Aaron Boyd