Miranda Paul is the author of the children's picture book One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, a winner of the 2016 Children's Africana Book Awards. Her other books include Trainbots and Whose Hands Are These? She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Q: You write that you first learned about Isatou Ceesay's story when you were a volunteer teacher in the Gambia. Why did you decide to write a picture book about her?
A: At first, we thought about writing a longer story—Isatou has launched many projects and has lived a remarkable life overall. But when I began freelancing for many children's and educational markets, I realized how the story of her starting the recycling co-op would resonate with young readers.
Children often have great ideas, and others don't always take them seriously. They are dreamers and visionaries, and they're also very passionate about our planet and animals. I decided to write a picture book because Isatou's story naturally fits this form—it's visual, powerful, and easily incorporated in an educational setting.
Q: What does she think of the book?
A: Isatou worked with me throughout the development of the book. I remember one night when I was in Njau, even before it had sold to the publisher, she translated the story into Wolof and read it for the women. Everyone commented that they were hopeful they'd see their story put on an international stage.
Isatou recently told me how people in Gambia are loving the now-published book. It's a significant honor.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book, and what do you see as the perfect age range for its readers?
A: I hope readers take away some inspiration and knowledge, and that the book fosters an appreciation and admiration for what these women have accomplished.
At one of my recent book presentations, an adult came up to me and said "I see this book is labeled for ages 5-9, but I loved it. It should say ages 5-99!" I think I'll second that opinion.
Q: How are the environmental conditions these days in Isatou Ceesay's village?
A: In Isatou's village, things are remarkably better. Not only have the women cleaned up most or all of the large "dustbins," they're also doing organic farming. They place collection bins in other villages and have trained hundreds in the recycling techniques.
Their projects with WasteAid UK and others have been reported upon internationally, sending occasional updates on their new waste management projects.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on more picture books. I've got some fiction and non-fiction titles in the works, but right now my husband Baptiste Paul and I have been working on a title similar to One Plastic Bag, about another environmental hero from Africa.
It's already been years in the making, as these kinds of book take time and resources to complete.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: During the writing of this book, Isatou and I helped a friend deliver a baby together. They named her Isatou-Miranda! I think that's one of the most special experiences in the world.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb