Review, Interview & Giveaway: Miranda Paul's ONE PLASTIC BAG and Break the Rules Webinar

Today I have a special treat: a review, an interview, and a giveaway to celebrate the upcoming release of Miranda Paul's picture book, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (Millbrook Press, Feb. 1, 2015), and her Children's Book Academy webinar with Chronicle Editor Ariel Richardson and Picture Book Whisperer Mira Reisberg, Rules to Break to Make Your Picture Book.

Make sure you enter her giveaway below for two great prizes: (1) a free annual subscription to her critique service, Rate Your Story, and (2) a signed copy of ONE PLASTIC BAG. The giveaway ends at noon EST, Jan. 22.


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.

© Elizabeth Zunon

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.


How did ONE PLASTIC BAG come about? What sparked the idea?

I was actually teaching for awhile in the Gambia, and learned of Isatou's recycling project. I've been an avid recycler since I was young. In fact, I got to explain more about how I came across this story in the Author's Note.

What kind of research did you do when writing this story?

A lot of primary research. Interviews, talking with people who were involved in it, and traveling to Gambia and staying in the village with the women many times. Since most of the women cannot write, photographs were limited, and the women went un-reported by their country's newspapers for years, research worked a little differently than other nonfiction books. I can say that I would not have been able to write this story without having lived there and/or been familiar with the Wolof language.

What projects are you working on now? What books do you have coming out?

Just a few months after ONE PLASTIC BAG comes out, I have another environmentally-themed picture book releasing. It's called WATER IS WATER, and it's illustrated beautifully by Jason Chin (GRAVITY, REDWOODS, ISLAND). The text of that one is spare, so it's great for really young audiences as well as school-aged kids.

As for what I'm working on now, here's the rundown: I just finished up some back matter for a book called HELPING HANDS, which will be published by Lerner (Millbrook) in early 2016. I'm really excited for it because it's a game/book hybrid, and will be illustrated by the talented Luciana Navarro Powell.

I have two other books coming out in 2016, one called 10 LITTLE NINJAS (Knopf/Penguin Random House) and another one that I hope to announce very soon. I'm also working on final touches for a humorous picture book that's coming out in 2017.

Life is busy, but good!

Your webinar is about breaking the rules of picture book writing. Can you give us an example or two of what you mean?

You know. THE RULES. Don't do this, Yes do that. Keep your manuscript under 500 words, no inanimate talking objects, don't write about something that actually happened to you, quiet books don't sell. We've heard them all. 

I think that sometimes, these rules can be confusing and/or stifling to new writers who are developing a voice. I try not to let them rule my writing, and many of my forthcoming books are outright rule breakers. ONE PLASTIC BAG is 833 words (plus back matter!), and I just sold a book that's got talking inanimate objects -- one of the biggest no-nos in the biz.

The webinar, Rules to Break to Make Your Picture Book, offered on January 24th through Children's Book Academy, will be a way for people to ask questions and find tips for gauging when to adhere to the rules, and when they might break them.

Plus, there's an editor (Ariel Richardson, Chronicle Books) joining us who will chime in on this very topic!

You critique a lot of PB manuscripts. What are the top few mistakes you see from beginner writers?

Either ignorance and accidental rule-breaking, where I can tell the writer hasn't studied picture books at all, or writing too carefully so as to adhere to the rules - which can mean blandness, less originality, and being stripped of voice.

What are the one or two top things you did to get to the point where you got publishing contracts?

I wrote a pile of books, and read a mountain of books. The thing is, people write their way to publishing contracts. They don't network, pitch, or buy their way to them (ok, maybe some celebrities can). For us common folk, writing a great book and polishing it is the best thing we can do.

Thank you so much, Miranda.  I can't wait to check out the webinar, and congratulations on all of your successes!  


Miranda Paul is giving away two fabulous prizes:

1) A 1 year subscription to Rate Your Story (RYS). RYS is a service where professional authors critique and rate picture book manuscripts. RYS provides its services for free on certain days of the year and offers a paid yearly subscription for $180, that allows 20 manuscripts to be submitted at any time, priority review, and more. If you already are a RYS subscriber and win this prize, you will get a full refund of your annual subscription.

2) A signed copy of ONE PLASTIC BAG.

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Miranda Paul is a children’s writer who is passionate about creating stories for young readers that inspire, entertain, and broaden horizons. In addition to more than 50 short stories for magazines and digital markets, Miranda is the author of several forthcoming picture books from imprints of Lerner, Macmillan, and Random House. Her debut, One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, was named a Junior Library Guild Selection. She is the Executive Vice President of Outreach for We Need Diverse Books™ ( and the administrator of, a site for aspiring writers. Miranda believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Learn more at