Thanks for joining us today, Miranda. Congratulations on the release of One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay, and The Recycling Women of Gambia!
I understand that you spent time in the Gambia and visited with many different women to comprise your story. With so much information, how did you ever decide to shape your story?
It wasn’t easy—at first I thought I’d help Isatou write a memoir, since there is so much more to her story than the recycling and women’s empowerment projects she kickstarted. Ultimately, I decided that a book for children was the right project for me to work on, and thus I needed to focus and narrow the scope to fit that audience. It wasn’t always easy choosing which details to keep in, which to leave out—but critique groups, my editor, and even Isatou helped me look at the story objectively.
I suppose it’s my passion for and knowledge of the Gambia. I believe this is the first traditionally-published picture book about a real Gambian woman, and I’m aware that it might be the only one some kids read about this place in the world. (I do hope that’s going to change, though!)
Yes. It’s hard! The women use such tiny crochet needles. I’m a failure at the purses but proud to say that I’m really great at cutting a plastic bag into one long strip to make the “plarn”. And I’m not too bad at making recycled jump ropes for kids! (Teachers can download the instructions at oneplasticbag.com)
How have experiences, such as being a volunteer teacher in the Gambia, shaped you as a writer?
Writing is about finding new perspectives, building empathy, and exploring details to discover a bigger picture. My time in Gambia strengthened those skills. But it also taught me to be resourceful and make things work with little to start from—and as most people who are trying to make a living doing creative work…this is key!
On April 1, Isatou Ceesay and I participated in Authors for Earth Day, a grassroots effort through which tens of thousand dollars have been contributed to various conservation organizations. Together, the school and I made a donation of more than $850 to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and the kids spent days before and after my visit discussing and working on environment-related projects. Of course, there are many other ways writers can show their stewardship for the Earth!
We not only share a passion for writing, but teaching as well. I relate to your passion for motivating kids, along with the desire to incorporate a love for children’s books and creativity into a full-time writing career. When did you feel it was the right time to leave your teaching position and focus on writing and illustrating full time?
The high school I most recently worked at still calls me in to sub, and I go in if I’m available—plus I still help coordinate some of the international students. So technically, I haven’t given up all of my teacher/school involvement even now!
I had signed my first two book contracts and was making a decent part-time income from freelancing work before stepping away from the daily classroom responsibilities.
Is there one common thread that holds your picture books together? How does this affect the books you write?
I like to inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. The common theme of my books? That each one is more than a book, I guess. One Plastic Bag is a living history, a conversation sparker, and a vehicle for change. Water is Water is a poem, a bedtime or library read-aloud, and a scientific exploration. Whose Hands Are These? (coming in 2016) is a guessing game and a story in one... See the pattern?
Miranda Paul is a former teacher and children’s writer who is passionate about creating stories that inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. In addition to her work for magazines and digital markets, Miranda is the author of two environmentally-themed picture books. Her debut, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, and her second book, Water is Water were both named Junior Library Guild selections and received starred reviews from School Library Journal. She is the Executive VP of Outreach for We Need Diverse Books and the administrator of RateYourStory.org, a site for aspiring writers. Miranda believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Learn more about her current and forthcoming books at www.mirandapaul.com.