About the Holiday
Plastic bags are everywhere! Used by supermarkets, department stores, discount stores, and just about anywhere goods are sold, plastic bags are a take-home-then-throw-away item that never quite goes away. These bags may seem lightweight, but they do heavy damage to the environment, taking hundreds of years to fully decompose. Many shops encourage patrons to bring their own bags and offer cloth and paper bags as well. These are great alternatives that benefit the earth. Today’s holiday was established to promote awareness around the world to the dangers of plastic bags and spur people to use reusable containers.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
Written by Miranda Paul | Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
In Njau, Gambia Isatou walks home carrying a basket of fruit on her head. As raindrops begin to fall, the basket shields her, but suddenly the basket tips and falls. The fruit inside tumble to the ground. The basket is in shreds; how will Isatou carry her load? “Something silky dances past her eyes, softening her anger. It moves like a flag, flapping in the wind, and settles under a tamarind tree.” Isatou picks it up and finds that it can hold things. She gathers her fruit and puts them in the bag. She leaves her basket behind, “knowing it will crumble and mix back in with the dirt.”
At home Grandmother Mbombeh has a dinner of spicy rice and fish ready. When Isatou tells her about the broken basket and shows her the bag, Grandmother frowns. She has seen more in the city. Now, Isatou notices plastic bags everywhere. They are as colorful as a rainbow. As Isatou swings her bag full of papers, the handle breaks, sending the papers inside flying. She finds another plastic bag lying nearby and transfers her papers. She leaves the torn bag in the dirt as everyone else does.
As she passes the spot day after day, she spies her old black bag. It has been joined by others, and the pile grows bigger and bigger. Isatou chooses another path to take and forgets about the bags. “Years pass and Isatou grows into a woman. She barely notices the ugliness growing around her…until the ugliness finds its way to her. One day when coming to Grandmother’s house, she hears one of her goats crying. It’s tied up and there is no sign of her Grandmother’s other goats.
Inside, the butcher is talking to Grandmother Mbombeh. He says that the goats have eaten the plastic bags they find lying around. The bags get twisted around their insides, killing the goats. Three of Grandmother’s goats and many more in the village have died. Something must be done. Isatou goes to the road piled with bags. Insects, rotting food, and dirty water mingle with the bags. Goats “forage through the trash for food.”
Isatou retrieves bag after bag from the pile. She and other women wash the bags. While they dry Isatou asks her sister to teach her how to crochet. Isatou has an idea. From a broomstick she carves crochet needles. Then she and her friends cut the bags into strips of thread. The women teach themselves how to crochet with the plastic thread. The work is slow, and some villagers laugh at them. Long into the nights the women continue crocheting by candlelight.
At last a day comes when the women can show what they have been working on. “Fingers sore and blistered, Isatou hauls the recycled purses to the city.” People laugh at her until “one woman lays dalasi coins on the table. She chooses a purse and shows it to one friend. The two. Then ten. Soon everyone wants one!” Later that day Isatou puts the money she has made into her own zippered purse. She can’t wait to show Grandmother that she has earned enough to buy a goat. The trash pile is smaller now. Isatou is determined that one day it will be gone. “And one day…it was.”
An Author’s Note provides more details about this true story as well as a Wolof language glossary and pronunciation guide.
Miranda Paul tells this true story of ingenuity and hope with honesty and evocative language. Young readers will learn how one woman’s concern for her community and courage in the face of opposition changed the lives of the people in her village. Paul’s descriptive text interspersed with native Wolof words allows children to discover details about the customs and daily lives of the citizens of Gambia. Paul’s use of the present tense, makes this a universal story that shows the continuing need for answers to ongoing environmental problems. Isatou’s creative solution to a world-wide problem may spur young readers to develop helpful ideas of their own.
Through her collage illustrations, Elizabeth Zunon brings the vibrant colors and patterns of Africa to readers. The textured papers she uses add depth and details to the women’s clothing, homes, foliage, and the plastic bags that Isotau and her friends transform. Children sit in on the candlelit nighttime crocheting sessions and view the beautiful, finished purses—each one unique.
Ages 6 – 9
Millbrook Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1467716086
Discover more about Miranda Paul and her books and find resources, videos, photos, and more on her website!
Learn more about Elizabeth Zunon and her books and view a portfolio of her artwork on her website!
International Plastic Bag Free Day Activity
Books to Love, Books to Read Reusable Book Bag
True booklovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!
- Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
- Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
- Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
- Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
- Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
- Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
- Fabric glue
- Thread (optional)
- Needle (optional)
- Print the sayings and cut out the letters
- Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
- Cut out cloth letters
- Iron cloth bag if necessary
- Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
- Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
- Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
- Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag
Picture Book Review