Narrator: Elizabeth Zunon
Published by Millbrook Press on February 1, 2015
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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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.
All too often when I’m browsing the nonfiction children’s titles on NetGalley, I spot a book that looks like it might tie in perfectly with a topic we’re already focusing on (or planning to focus on). We tend to combine homeschooling and Girl Scouts when we can. One Plastic Bag ended up being a combined science and social studies lesson, and the discussion it sparked helped C work on her dark green “Use Resources Wisely” Clover petal as a Girl Scout Daisy. (It would also work well for the light pink “Make the World a Better Place” Rosie petal, and I have a feeling we’ll revisit this book when she starts on the “Between Earth and Sky” Journey.)
One Plastic Bag tells the true story of Isatou Ceesay, who led other women in her area to tackle the overwhelming garbage problem—specifically, plastic—in their tiny village, Njau. Isatou had the idea to collect the plastic bags littering their community, wash them, cut them into thin strips, use the strips like thread to crochet and sell purses. Rich details of Gambian culture are portrayed through the text (including smatterings of the Wolof language) and the illustrations (from bright vivid clothing to babywearing).
Isatou and her friends took garbage and turned it into something beautiful, a small action that ended up creating an enormously positive impact on their local environment and economy. You see the decline of Njau’s beauty as Isatou does, as she grows up. You understand a possible reason why people in the community were so careless about letting litter pile up in the first place. The detrimental impact on Njau offers up a wide variety of points for discussion: There’s the dirty, standing water with mosquitoes (malaria), the stench of burning plastic (health), goats that died from eating plastic bags (these animals are essential to a family’s financial well-being). And Isatou’s actions are an inspiring launching pad for talking with children about creative responses to the needs around us, taking action even when it seems too insignificant to really help, leadership skills, and fair trade businesses.
All at an age-appropriate, elementary school level. This is a substantial little picture book!
The end is chock full of resources, including a map, a timeline, book suggestions for further reading, and an easy-to-follow Wolof glossary and pronunciation guide.
I thought I’d be all fancy and give Isatou’s ingenious craft a try. I used a Target bag, cut the longest strip I could, and just for sample purposes, cast on 15 stitches. You guys, this was difficult. The plastic wanted to make janky stitches, and I couldn’t tell which way was up. Granted, I’m a beginner when it comes to crochet, but at least with regular yarn it’s easy to see what’s going on. I only got through 3 rows before I got to the end of the thread. I don’t know how to add more, so I had to stop there. The result wasn’t very pretty, although C said it was “a nice braid.”
I’m sure more capable (and craftier) hands would have far less trouble than I did. C isn’t ready to try this herself, but this would be a great activity to do with older kids. The attempt definitely gave me a deeper perspective into the story. I made that mess, but Isatou Ceesay and her friends made items like this, crocheting at night, by candlelight. Just amazing.