One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

by Miranda Paul (Author) Elizabeth Zunon (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

The inspiring true story of how one African woman began a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community.

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred.

The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change.

Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. This inspirational true story shows how one person's actions really can make a difference in our world.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 1-4—The simple format of this picture book belies the strength of its content, a story lovingly supported by charming collage illustrations. As a girl, Ceesay realized that the goats on which her village relied were dying because they were eating plastic bags. She also saw that people were tossing the used bags on the ground just as they had always thrown away their baskets when no longer useful—except the plastic bags, unlike the baskets, weren't biodegradable. So Ceesay figured out how to use crochet, a skill with which the villagers were already familiar, to make purses out of the plastic bags. Simple but lyrical text conveys this beautiful, thought-provoking tale of ecological awareness and recycling ("The basket tips. One fruit tumbles. Then two. Then ten."). An inspiring account.—Dorcas Hand, Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX 

Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

One woman's efforts to rid her Gambian village of trash sparks a recycling movement in this uplifting tale inspired by true events. As a girl, Inatou admired the colors and myriad uses of the plastic bags that began to proliferate in her community. But years later, the same plastic bags, festering in trash heaps or floating through the air, have become a menace to humans and animals. Compelled to make her home beautiful, Inatou gathers the bags, cleans them, and crochets them into purses. She teaches other women to do the same, and an ecologically-minded enterprise is born. Notes of hope, determination, and empowerment suffuse Paul's story, which the author explains was informed by her volunteer work as a teacher in the Gambia. Incorporating real plastic bags into her mixed-media collages, Zunon, who grew up in West Africa, juxtaposes the brown, dusty landscape against splashes of color and vibrant printed dresses and head coverings worn by the village women. A glossary and list of suggested reading are included. Ages 5-9. <i>Author's agent: Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary. Illustrator's agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Feb.)

Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"In the 1980s in the cities of Gambia, a switch from using baskets made of natural materials to non-biodegradable plastic bags led to a problem: roadsides began to be choked by ever-growing piles of plastic bags. Then the problem spread to the villages. In Njau, Gambia, a young woman named Isatou Ceesay became concerned; when she learned that these non-biodegradable objects, discarded after breakage and tears made them no longer usable, were attracting disease-bearing insects and that domestic animals often died after eating the bags, she decided to do something about it. Author Paul has written a clear and sensitive account of Ceesay and her fellow activists' ingenious solution to the plastic bag problem (they wash them, cut the bags into strips, and crochet the strips into small purses to sell in the city). Zunon's collages, with their vivid colors, elegant patterns, and varied textures—especially those from actual plastic bags—provide a beautiful and authentic entry into the story. An informative author's note, glossary, timeline, and suggestions for further reading accompany the story. This handsome presentation of grassroots environmental activism is certain to inspire young readers." —The Horn Book Magazine

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Millbrook Press (Tm)
Publication date
February 20, 2015
Millbrook Picture Books
Finalist 2015 - 2015

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