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

Plastic shopping bags became widely used in the 1980s.  They're popular with manufacturers because they are cheaper to make than paper bags and popular with consumers because of their convenience.  (How many of us have carried four or five bags of groceries in one hand while bringing them into the house, right?)  

Manufacturers have justified making plastic shopping bags by claiming it was good for the environment... it reduced the number of trees being cut each year.  However, plastic shopping bags have actually hurt the environment in large parts of the world.  One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul is the true story of how plastic shopping bags have wreaked havoc in one community and how a woman named Isatou Ceesay was determined to do something about it.  Keep reading to learn more about One Plastic Bag, how you can use it in the classroom, and for a simple art enrichment activity that repurposes plastic shopping bags.


Disclosure: Affiliate links to Amazon are included in this post.

Author's Summary

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.

🍎🌍 Title: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
🍎🌍 Author: Miranda Paul
🍎🌍 Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon
🍎🌍 Publisher: Millbrook Press
🍎🌍 Date: February 1, 2015
🍎🌍 Pages: 32

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

Geography Minilesson

One Plastic Bag takes place in The Gambia.  Chances are that the majority of your students won't know where The Gambia is.  Before reading One Plastic Bag with your students, pull out a world map.  Help your students locate where they live.  What country?  What city/town?  What state/province?  Next, find The Gambia in western Africa.  The Gambia is a small country along the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by Senegal.  What is the capital of The Gambia?  What other cities and towns in the Gambia do you see?  What is the main river in The Gambia?  The Gambia is near the equator and along the Atlantic Ocean... what do you think the weather and climate might be like?

Map of the Gambia

Language Arts Minilesson


"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

One Plastic Bag is the true story of how Isatou Ceesay saw a problem in her community and came up with a solution to do something about it.  The plastic bags thrown on the ground were causing major problems... village goats were eating them and dying, food couldn't grow in gardens because the soil was smothered by the bags, and villagers were burning the bags which caused toxic fumes to fill the air.

As you and your students read One Plastic Bag together, talk about Isatou and what you learn about her from the book.  What do you learn about Isatou's values and character?  Help your students use their inferencing and cause and effect skills.  For example...

We know Isatou cares about other people.  We know this because she uses the earnings from selling the coin purses to help the people in her village.

We know protecting the environment is important to Isatou because she takes the time to pick the plastic bags off of the ground and make items out of them.

What are some other examples your students come up with?
 
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul

Art Enrichment Activity


“One plastic bag becomes two. Then ten. Then a hundred.” -Isatou Ceesay

In the story One Plastic Bag, Isatou Ceesay becomes frustrated by the number of plastic bags littering her community, so she decides to do something about it.  She and some of her friends gather the plastic bags, cut them into strips, and then crochet coin purses out of them.

This art enrichment activity is inspired by Isatou and her friends.  Your students won't be crocheting coin purses... it's too time-consuming and difficult for small fingers... but this simple activity will help them understand they can repurpose plastic bags into something creative and useful... just like Isatou and her friends did!

(If you want to try crocheting plastic bags, however, watch this video featuring Isatou Ceesay for directions.)


For this activity, you will need:

🍎🌍 three plastic shopping bags per student
🍎🌍 scissors
🍎🌍 glue
🍎🌍 cardstock, cardboard, or tagboard

Children's craft: reusing/repurposing plastic shopping bags into creative and useful items #kellysclassroomonline

  • Cut the plastic bags into strips.  (I used one white, one blue, and one yellow plastic bag.)
  • Tie these strips together until you have three long strands that are even in length.  (I made one long white strand, one long blue strand, and one long yellow strand.)
  • Braid these strands together.  
  • Roll the finished braid into a circle and glue it onto the cardstock.
  • Lay flat to dry.

Children's craft: reusing/repurposing plastic shopping bags into creative and useful items #kellysclassroomonline

After the glue has dried, you can leave the end product as is or turn it into something else.  If I were to keep the end product as it looks in the photo above, I could add a moon and some stars to the cardstock and create a planet in outer space!  Instead, I cut around my braided circle and made a coaster that can be used to hold little cups.  Use your imagination to reduce, reuse, recycle, or repurpose your plastic braids into something else.  What else can you do with plastic shopping bags?

Children's craft: reusing/repurposing plastic shopping bags into creative and useful items #kellysclassroomonline

(My cat photobombed my photoshoot.  Meet my Sheldon.)

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

To learn more about One Plastic Bag, please visit the author's website.

For a charming read-aloud of One Plastic Bag, please watch this video by Rebekah Wall:


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

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