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

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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.

32 pages, Hardcover

First published February 1, 2015

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About the author

Miranda Paul

18 books143 followers
Miranda Paul has worked as a teacher, volunteer zookeeper, and freelance writer--among other things. She is passionate about creating stories for young readers that inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. Miranda is also a thrill-seeker, and one of her bravest moments involved reciting poetry from inside a crocodile pit. (Yikes!)

In addition to being a picture book author, Miranda is a team member of We Need Diverse Books™ and a volunteer for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 369 reviews
Profile Image for Jasmine from How Useful It Is.
1,339 reviews350 followers
October 19, 2021
Read for my toddler’s bedtime. A good story about a woman named Isatou in Gambia, West Africa taking action against the piles of plastic bags growing on the roads. She cleaned them then reused these plastic bags to make beautiful purses. The plastics have been killing animals on land and in ocean. It stays forever and ever after people discarded it. The story was a good read and I loved reading about someone doing good things.

Read from kindle unlimited.
Profile Image for Karen Witzler.
482 reviews164 followers
June 17, 2020
Lovely true picture book story of a woman in the Gambia who decided to do something about the plastic bag garbage that was breeding mosquitoes and killing livestock in her community. She began a profitable project of collecting, washing, crocheting plastic bag strips into purses and pouches. Good for children who like stories about helping, recycling, African countries, the Gambia.
Profile Image for Laura Salas.
Author 116 books159 followers
October 19, 2014
I just read an advance copy (in the form of an F&G) of this book, and it is amazing. This is a beautiful, inspiring, true story. The text is spare and effective--my favorite sentence is, "She knows too much to ignore it now." Most of the writing is concrete and lovely: "It moves like a flag, flapping in the wind, and settles under a tamarind tree." Miranda Paul brings Gambia to life through all the senses, and illustrator Elizabeth Zunon combines engaging, colorful art and photos of the purses made of recycled plastic bags. Let kids learn how one young person can change the world for the better!

(Review copy provided by the publisher.)
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,174 reviews187 followers
February 16, 2021
Author Miranda Paul and illustrator Elizabeth Zunon tell the story of Isatou Ceesay in this poignant and inspiring picture-book biography, chronicling how the Gambian woman came up with a solution to the mounds of plastic trash strangling her small village. Although she had noticed the growing problem of plastic waste while walking through the village, it was the death of one of her grandmother's goats - strangled by the plastic bag it had eaten - that inspired Ceesay to begin working on the problem. Collecting the bags, she came up with a way to rework plastic into thread, which she and a group of women used to weave purses. This recycling effort was initially met with ridicule, but eventually it proved successful, not just as a means of using old plastic bags, but as a source of income for the women. Many good things would eventually come of this project...

I have enjoyed quite a few of Miranda Paul's picture-books, particularly her non-fiction titles like Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle and Little Libraries, Big Heroes , so I was excited to pick up One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. I found the story itself engaging, and Isatou Ceesay's innovative solution to the problem confronting her and her community quite inspiring. It was wonderful to read in the afterword that the community center that sprang from Ceesay's project now includes the first public library in the region! The accompanying artwork from Zunon, whose own Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family was such a delight, includes collage elements that utilize (among other things) used plastic bags. Highly recommended to picture-book readers looking for stories about inspirational women, recycling and environmental responsibility, and finding creative ways to solve problems. It could pair very nicely with such titles as Claire A. Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai (and other biographies of Matthai), or William Kamkwamba's The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind .
Profile Image for Kathryn.
4,342 reviews
March 4, 2020
"People thought I was too young and that women couldn't be leaders. I took these things as challenges; they gave me more power. I didn't call out the problems -- I called out solutions." -- Isatu Ceesay

This book is outstanding! It shows the positive difference one person can make by realizing there is a problem and actually being brave enough to do something about it. Little pebbles will make big ripples! Isatou's (EYE-suh-too) journey from a casual awakening to the existence of plastic bags to realizing the extreme problems they caused her community to her work to DO something about it is wonderful. The story is deftly told,. I'm not sure whether Isatou's first encounter with plastic bags happened as depicted here but it is engaging: She is coming home with fruits in her basket and the basket breaks and fruit tumbles everywhere. She is frustrated but "something silky dances past her eyes, softening her anger. [...] Isatou slides the strange fabric through her fingers and discovers it can carry things inside. She gathers her fruits in the bag. The basket is useless now. She drops it, knowing it will crumble and mix back in with the dirt." She is excited about this sturdy new bag but Grandmother is not pleased when she brings it home to her village, "'Plastic.' Grandmother frowns. 'There's more in the city.'"

At first, though, the plastic bags are wonderful. People carry things easily with them, children poke holes and drink water from them. Isatou thinks the colors are so beautiful. But, everyone simply discards the plastic on the ground and soon it becomes a problem.

As the years pass, is no longer beautiful, the ugliness of the plastic bag is everywhere. People try to burn it but the smell is terrible. Mosquitoes breed in the water that pools in the plastic and disease spreads. Goats eat the pastic and it strangles their insides and they die. Isatou feels she can no longer ignore the situation. And she has the idea to gather a group of women to gather and clean the plastic bags and then to make thread of the plastic bags and crochet it into purses.

Some people laugh at these women. Others call them "dirty." But they believe what they are doing is good. And, eventually, others realize this, too. The purses sell, there is money to buy more goats, the village is clean.

Wonderfully inspiring! The Author's Note provides more details and there is also a Wolof Glossary and Pronunciation Guide, a Timeline and Suggestions for Further Reading. The illustrations deftly incorporate plastic bags. Highly recommended!!!

I also recommend Rainbow Weaver: Tejedora del Arcoiris along similar lines and perhaps a better introduction for younger children to the subject of weaving treasures from plastic bag trash.

Profile Image for Melki.
6,040 reviews2,390 followers
July 30, 2019
Miranda Paul presents the interesting and inspiring story of Isatou Ceesay, a Gambian woman who became tired of the discarded plastic bags polluting her village and killing valuable livestock, so . . . she decided to do something about it.


I only wish the book had included instructions for making your own crocheted plastic bag.

Profile Image for Stephanie Anze.
657 reviews114 followers
November 21, 2018
"People thought I was too young and that women couldn't be leaders. I took these things as challenges; they gave me power. I didn't call out the problems- I called out solutions."

Isatou Ceesay's weaved basket breaks as she is carryng fruit. She finds a plastic bag and carries her fruit there instead. Isatou likes her bag but notices that they accumulate more and more on the ground, causing serious damages to the soil and animals that roam. An idea is born. What if she could reuse these bags in a way that they would not end up thrown on the floor? Isatou begins sewing bags together into purses and thus an envronmental hero is born.

Through a colorful and descriptive narrative, the story of Isatou Ceesay is beautifully rendered in this magnificent children's book . The illustrations pay homage to a woman whose simple idea revolutionized the use of the plastic bag in Gambia. Isatou notices that, year after year, plastic bags keep accumulating. It occurs to Isatou to recycle the bags by reusing them. Originally its just her and a handful of women sewing strips of plastic bags into pursses that they proceed to sell. This idea is found laughable at first but eventually, it gains traction. Since than, Isatou has gained international acclaim, a deserved recogniton that could not to a better woman.

Isatou Ceesay started her humble endevor in 1997. Her organization is called Women Initiative the Gambia. She is not only helping the envinronment by recycling plastic bags, she is also empowering women. Through her organization, she is teaching women not just how to make the purses but also how to garner revenue and become financially indenpendent (something that in Gambia might otherwise be impossible) . Wallets, purses and balls for children are produced by this group of women and sold worldwide. On average 4 to 10 bags are used to make a coin purse. In 2012, Isatou was given the TIAW "Difference Maker" award in Washington DC. I just love learning about great women such as Isatou Ceesay.
Profile Image for Sylvia.
Author 5 books114 followers
January 16, 2015
ONE PLASTIC BAG tells the true story of Isatou, a Gambian woman who tackled the problem of plastic trash in her community by organizing women to recycle plastic bags into woven purses. Not only did she clean up her community and save goats from eating plastic, but she also empowered the women in her village.

The story is told simply and lyrically. One of my favorite refrains that shows up in different variations, goes like this: “One plastic bag becomes two. Then ten. Then a hundred.” The repetition of this evocative phrase in different settings reinforces a central theme of the story – the actions of one person can multiply and reverberate well beyond themselves.

The illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon are striking with a strong graphic sense. She creates bright and warm collages from plastic bags, African patterned cloths, photographs, and painted surfaces.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,813 reviews418 followers
September 19, 2020
Ok, this is a must-read for educators and families.
Thankfully, it's appealing, too. Note, glossary, and further reading are included. Delightful pictures. Text and theme that can work at many grade levels, and in many content areas, not just science and social studies.
I particularly like the quote from the hero, Isatou Ceesay, "People thought I was too young and that women couldn't be leaders. I took those things as challenges; they gave me more power. I didn't call out the problems--I called out the solutions."
Profile Image for Barbara.
462 reviews45 followers
February 19, 2016
I really love this story. It illustrates how a little creativity and engineuity can solve two problems at once. Beautiful illustrations.
Profile Image for Crystal.
2,188 reviews114 followers
February 11, 2015
Review Copy: ARC (f&g) from publisher

This is a wonderful example of someone seeing a problem, thinking of a possible solution, and working together with others to make it all happen. Teachers are often looking for stories about everyday people making a difference in the world and Isatou Ceesay along with women in her community did just that. There were too many plastic bags littering their village and causing all kinds of problems, but they came together to make a change. I appreciated the resources at the end of the book including the author's note, a timeline, glossary, and a list of books about other people who have brought about positive changes in our world.

I'm a sucker for collage and enjoyed the colorful patterns and the many textures used here. To see more of the illustrations and find out more about the book, check out the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hONmq...
Profile Image for Edward Sullivan.
Author 5 books203 followers
March 15, 2015
An inspiring true story of a Gambian woman who tackled the problem of plastic trash in her community by organizing women to recycle plastic bags into woven purses.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
2,038 reviews53 followers
March 29, 2015
This book is about the women of Gambia and their efforts to both recycle and beautify their country. Wonderful!!
Profile Image for SamZ.
820 reviews
March 9, 2020
"Her feet stop. She knows too much to ignore it now."
I loved this story about a small group of women in Ghana who work to improve the lives and environment of their small village - even when others say there's nothing that can be done, even laughing at the women and calling them dirty for trying. This reminds me so much of the quote by Maya Angelou: "When you know better, do better."
Isatou lives in a small village in Ghana that has become overrun with plastic bags. The bags are strangling the crops, catching pools of water that then become breeding grounds for malaria, and being eaten by goats - who then strangle and die on them. Isatou knows that something must be done and begins gathering a small group of women to brainstorm how to re-use the bags and clean up their village.
8 reviews
April 21, 2018
One Plastic Bag: Isatau Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia is an excellent informational text to read to grades 3-5. This text informs its readers of how plastic bags can affect communities, both good ways and bad ways. It also features a unique way to solve the problem of having too many plastic bags accumulating on the ground.

I would use this book as an introduction to a recycling unit and/or ways to help the environment. Students may not realize the impact plastic bags have on communities, so this book could help them make sense of that. This book could also be used when talking about the dangers of pollution and animals; students may not realize that animals are affected by people polluting. Since this book is set in Gambia, a country in West Africa, it help students see that pollution is everywhere and not just in the United States. Knowing this, it would be a great opportunity for students to compare and contrast pollution from Africa and the United States. Students can also understand a bit more about the culture of Gambia, since the book features many new vocabulary words from Gambia. After a unit, students can create their own solutions to pollution, like Isatou did with the plastic bags.

This was a WOW book for me because it proves that small actions by a group of people can help create big change. Isatau and a few of family members and friends banded together to help decrease the amount of plastic bags in their village. It helps reveal the importance of taking care of your community and doing things for the greater good.
April 22, 2018
This book is inspiring! I read this book as a part of my re-envision science lesson on plastic pollution. I was searching for an info text for Goodreads and realized how well this book worked! I loved the story because it told all about the negative aspects of pollution and how many ways to dispose the garbage was harmful as well. I like the perseverance that this book teaches. The women did not give up on their creative dream because of ridicule. The kept pushing until they became a success! I also love that the book includes real photos and a timeline of events. This helps the children make real world connections to see this is more than just a story. This book is great to incorporate into the classroom when learning about pollution and recycling and other cultures. It can tie well into a lesson on Gambia! I would also like to use this in my future classroom with an engineering unit. I would have the children create something new and useful of their own out of plastic bags. Great book with a great lesson!
Profile Image for Krista the Krazy Kataloguer.
3,873 reviews268 followers
July 1, 2016
Such an inspiring book! Isatou and her fellow women villagers clean up their village by collecting plastic bags and recycling them into a plastic thread with which they crochet purses to sell. I love stories like this. You don't need to do much sometimes to make a big difference. This book also points out that plastic bags are a health hazard to grazing animals, who get sick accidentally eating them, and to people, who catch diseases harbored by the insects who live in the water caught up in the discarded bags. This is a wonderful book to use for Earth Day or for any lesson on recycling. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for H. Dair Brown.
Author 7 books18 followers
June 10, 2017
Absolutely read this. But only if you want to feel hopeful!! 😉❤️
8 reviews
April 28, 2021
Synthesis: Based on a true story of women in the Gambia, a group of women begins finding a solution to a long issue of pollution within their community. Beginning at a young age, one of these women begins noticing more trash-collecting around her community. What once was a small problem, began affecting the lives of everyone around her as she grew older. Soon the waste was leading to health problems due to the increase of mosquitoes and affecting the livestock who would consume the plastics unknowing the dangers. The innovative women of Gambia began finding a way to reuse these pollutants, not only saving their communities but also making a living for themselves through selling goods made by the plastic materials around them. Their willingness to help the environment and create solutions to seemingly hopeless situations displays their determination and willingness to not give up. The story implements both recognition for cleaning up the environment and also raising awareness of issues that go on outside of your immediate bubble.
Genre: Informational
Age Group:3-5th
Classroom: This story gives teachers the perfect opportunity to incorporate science into literature. In the 3rd grade standards particularly, students begin learning about recycling and being responsible environmentalists within society. I would first read this book to students and then go into a short lesson about recycling and reusable materials. With this knowledge given to students, I will ask them ways to eliminate plastics in their own life. Students will then create an “Environmentalist Stanly” (I hope you are familiar with flat Stanley). They will create their environmentalists and then be asked to take pictures of the doll with the ways in which they will reduce plastic usages. This will create a fun activity that students can do both at school and at home if they so wish. Students will be given time in class to complete these projects and parents will be notified as well about their project. At the end of the project, I hope to have another conversation with students on how to reduce plastics and the things they realized about themselves participating in the activity.
Why WOW: I truly love a good book on environmentalism. Not only is the author of this book fantastic, but the overall concept is inspirational. The book was able to be based on real events while also eliciting a cry for change in order to help the environment. I feel that the book is set up in a way to have great conversations with students about plastics and ways we can help reduce waste in our own lives. I am truly WOWed by the women of the Gambia and their ability to use their ever-limited resources to create something beautiful. This will be a book I will surely be using in my classroom and I plan to collect any other books written by this author.
8 reviews
February 10, 2020
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia is an excellent biography about the events that were happening in Gambia and the impact made my Isatou Ceesay and the other Women of Gambia. Plastic has been creating a negative impact on the worlds environment. The story of Gambia is a real account of this issue. In a small country, where the people would drop their plastic bags on the ground and would just continue on with their day. Isatou was tired of seeing the negative impacts on her country, and was determined to find a solution. This is a great topic to bring in the social studies unit, the idea of how people can have positive and negative effects on the environment. It is also a chance for students to look at how one person made such an impact. This could be an opportunity for teachers to encourage students to find a problem in their school and create and action plan to create a solution. This is a moving real story about how one persons idea and motivation can be turned into a movement, and can make a huge impact on the country. This story can also be included into the math unit. Teachers can create story problems out of story of the recycled purses Isatou and the Women made. Students can think about the profit the Women made how they used the money. This book can be used in many ways in a 3rd grade classroom and can be connected to many different subjects. This book was a WOW book for me because the environment is something that I worry about and this book is encouraging to think that one person can create a huge movement for a country. I hope students would find the same encouragement in the book and would push them to be change in their own school.
Profile Image for Dani Kraft.
14 reviews
June 21, 2018
One Plastic Bag
One plastic bag is a non-fiction story about a little girl named Isatou. Isatou is from Njau, Gambia. Here Isatou runs into a plastic bag in different parts of her life. The first time is when she uses one herself. This disappoints her grandmother, because the people in the city use a ton of plastic bags. Years pass in Isatou’s life, she then encounters goats who are in a pile of plastic bags. The goats are even eating the plastic bags. She then helps the goats and realizes this is a serious problem. Isatou and her grandmother later make crochet bags to sell instead of plastic bags. This will help keep the environment safe and they were able to make money off of it. The book that I choose to pair with this text was Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser. This fiction book really gave a great story line. It talks about a bag that fly’s across to all of these different places in the country. It was initially in a landfill, but then was used by different people at different times when it flew to them in the wind. The class I would read these books again would be for science. I would be talking to the kids about recycling or landfills etc. I would first read both of the books to the children. There would not be a specific order. Then I would have them do a K-W-L chat for both of the picture books. K: meaning what they know about recycling or landfills. W: would be what the children want to know about reclycing and landfills. Finally, L: would be what the children learned from these books. We would then all look back at the book to review what they already knew and see if we could get answers to what they wanted to know from the two books. Both of these books are very good for kids to read. It truly reminded me of the pollution issues that we have today!
187 reviews
December 16, 2020
An 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, 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.
1,161 reviews1 follower
June 26, 2021
A cool book about a true story of how some women started recycling plastic bags in the Gambia. I liked how it showed at the beginning the way that throwing away their leaf baskets, which would biodegrade, wasn’t a problem, but it became an issue when the items started being made of plastic instead. Traditional habits worked fine with traditional materials, but it took time to realize the impact of those same habits with synthetic materials. Great story of entrepreneurship to solve a problem.

Also, the collage-style illustrations are beautiful!
Profile Image for Chris.
973 reviews14 followers
October 30, 2017
Oooo-eeeee, this is my kind of book! Ite tells how one woman in Gambia, after realizing that stinky, fly-attracting piles of plastic bags were making her village unsightly and unhealthy, came up with a plan to reuse/recycle them. In the long run, the women of the town have started one heck of a business enterprise! Illustrations are collaged and are lovely, as is the story. My last class at THA recycled plastic bags into PLARN and we made a sleeping mat for the homeless shelter. It took a lot of hard work and almost a full year, but boy were the kids proud! This is a great introduction to teaching about recycling plastic gabs AND introducing some really cool DIY activities.
Profile Image for Erin Buhr.
Author 5 books34 followers
April 17, 2018
There are so many wonderful layers to this story. It's a fascinating true story. It's an inspiring story of turning something ugly into something beautiful. It's an empowering story of how something simple can help make your community better. It's an example of strong women, creativity, helping the environment. A thoroughly enjoyable book that leaves you feeling like you can make a difference.
Profile Image for Ruth.
1,410 reviews36 followers
May 8, 2018
My son and I both enjoyed it. He was particularly interested in the idea that plastic bags could be reused like that. He constantly tries to keep everything that enters the house so he can put it in his imagination box. We don't have a lot of plastic bags enter the house, but I think he'll be wanting to keep those now, too.
Profile Image for Jennifer Mangler.
1,396 reviews13 followers
March 13, 2018
The story of how Isatou Ceesay solved her community's plastic garbage problem is interesting and thought-provoking. It could really help start an exploration of how big a problem plastic pollution is becoming and different ways that people are addressing the problem.
Profile Image for Nadine Poper.
Author 6 books17 followers
August 31, 2018
Miranda Paul has brought to life an important environmental message that we all can learn from. The steps the women of Gambia took to save their village was admirable and inspiring. Elizabeth Zunon's illustrations take you to the village and immerse you in their experience.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 369 reviews

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