One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

Values: Determination, Community, Responsibility, Empathy.

One Plastic Bag is a non-fiction picture book about the story of a group of women who have begun recycling plastic bags in order to help the environment and also make some money for their community. Miranda Paul visited Gambia as a volunteer teacher and met a woman called Isatou. This book is her remarkable story.

In Njau, Gambia, plastic bags were often dropped by the roadside when they were no longer needed. Isatou noticed that not only were animals, such as her village's goats, eating them but plastic was being burned and the fumes hurting people's noses. She decided that something more productive could be done with the discarded bags in her community and she began working with her friends and other local women to weave strips of plastic bags into recycled purses to sell. Isatou began not only helping the environment, but furthermore bringing money into her village. The children praised her determination when faced with difficulties and lack of experience.

For me, this book is summed up by the Values of community and responsibility. Isatou pulled the whole community together with positive repercussions for everybody. In class, we talked about what we do as a community that is for the greater good. We discussed our litter picks, buddying schemes at school, inviting the old people's home to come to see our school plays etc. We thought of the positive consequences of our actions.

I brought this book into school as part of our topic on Plastic Pollution and the children talked enthusiastically about what we could do to help reduce our single-use plastic consumption. I then set them a homework to turn an old plastic bag into something of use. The children rose to the challenge and they came up with some very inventive ideas. We considered what our responsibility is towards our local and global communities.

When reading the book, the children showed the Value of empathy both towards Isatou and her community as they didn't have much money and they wanted to be entrepreneurs and change their situation (which the children could understand), and also towards the animals that were eating the discarded plastic. They didn't like to think of animals being endangered by humans' actions and we thought about our local park and what happens when litter is dropped there. We imagined the animals such as foxes who live near us that may become hurt if we don't show responsibility for our litter. This was a wider discussion than one circle time, but a very valuable one.

I enjoy having some non-fiction books on my Values bookshelf as real stories from real people can help children see Values in action in our world today. The book is also gorgeously illustrated with a collage effect and includes words in Wolof (Isatou's language from Gambia). There is a glossary, map and timeline of events as well as photos of Isatou included too, which helped the children to visualise and contextualise the events in the story.

In fact, in March 2020, Isatou won the 2020 Inspiration Award in Gambia and you can see more information on this dedicated website here.

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