"A Book Is More than a Book": A Chat with Author Miranda Paul

Miranda Paul, author of the critically acclaimed One Plastic Bag, discusses her inspirations and her passion for the printed book.
The last three years have been a whirlwind success for Wisconsin author Miranda Paul—with three books already receiving award accolades and four more set to be published in 2016 and 2017, it might seem as if Paul was fast-tracked for literary success. But her debut book One_Plastic_Bag_Cover_Miranda_Paul1was more than 12 years in the making. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (Lerner)—illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon and based on one woman’s attempts to clean up and recycle the many plastic bags littering her small rural community—came out last year. Ideal for sparking library and classroom discussions about community, environmentalism, and positive social action, the book is now in its fourth printing. Paul, who taught in the West African nation of Gambia more than a decade ago, calls it the “little book that could.” She was initially told the book was “institutional,” and “not salable.” Soon after One Plastic Bag, Paul published Water is Water (Roaring Brook), illustrated by award-winning artist Jason Chin, which garnered multiple starred reviews and was named on SLJ’s Best Books of the 2015 and ALA’s 2016 Notable Books lists. Her success quickly blossomed. The rhyming and interactive book Whose Hands are These? (Lerner/Millbrook) was released earlier this year, and she has four more books pending publication in 2016 and 2017—Trainbots (Little Bee), 10 Little Ninjas (Knopf), Are We Pears Yet? (Roaring Brook) and Blobfish Throws a Party (Little Bee). The former teacher and mom of two who lives in the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay spoke with SLJ about her publishing success. Why is it an exciting time to be involved in children’s books? I have to believe it’s always an exciting time to be involved in children’s books; this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. The truth is, there’s always a new group of kids; there’s always the chance that your book is going to be discovered by a new child; that is really exciting.   I’m sure you’re familiar with the 2010 “New York Times” article that opined that picture books were losing favor among booksellers and parents. Thoughts? That was the year I got serious about writing books. I entered this market knowing it would be difficult. I had to be at the top of my game. But last year, Publisher’s Weekly reported that, according to the American Book Producers Association, we’re now entering the “golden age of picture books.”   Miranda Paul photo

Author Miranda Paul, surrounded by some of her favorite books. Photo by Sharon Verbeten.

Your first two titles were non-fiction, but you mention branching out into new directions with your books. Why? I’m excited to have a wider offering. I’ve always written both, but you don’t see everything authors write; I’ve written almost everything that you can write. I’m playing around a lot with the picture book format. I don’t write to trends. That’s not where a book begins for me.   You are pleased to say that your books are much more than just a book; there’s often a bonus involved—Water is Water has an original song [written by Emily Arrow], One Plastic Bag is a call to action, Whose Hands Are These? is a game, Trainbots events will feature handmade robots. The books are these things that open up doors to the next project. I want all my books to be much more than a book. There’s so much energy behind them; they lend themselves to great events; it’s really fun.   In an age where some people believe libraries and printed books are fading, you’ve always been a big advocate of both. Tell us more. In elementary school, we had a shelf of books in the office. In middle school, we didn’t have a library. The public library and bookmobile were really key. I’m in awe when I go to a school library media center today. It’s no small role that school libraries are playing. As far as print goes, most people, adults—ask them their favorite book of all time and they’ll recall a book from their childhood…and it’s always a physical book.   You are one of the co-founders of We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and have served as executive VP of outreach, as well as on the mentorship committee. Why is the movement so important to you personally?  One of my big passions for this is personal; I wasn’t exposed to a lot of diverse books when I was younger; I had to seek them out. As a result, I know I have unconscious preferences or biases that I don’t want to have. I’m learning that now, thanks to a gracious and knowledgeable group of people. WNDB rests on the shoulders of many people who have been taking up this issue for decades and decades. It’s not an issue that WNDB will solve on its own or will take credit for…but it is making a difference.   Who are some of your favorite authors? Shel Silverstein and [fellow Wisconsin author] Kevin Henkes. When I was young, Miranda was an unusual name, so, like [Henkes’ character] Chrysanthemum, I often wanted to change it. I felt like that book was written for kids like me.   Crossing the nation attending publishing events and book tours is becoming old hat for you. How do you like it? I love the enthusiasm that comes in from a teacher or a school district. The job that I have really has the potential to be meaningful in children’s lives. I never met an author as a kid. Maybe if I had, I would have done this sooner. I feel like this has been in me forever. Sharon Verbeten is a children’s librarian with Brown County Library in Green Bay, WI, and an SLJ reviewer. 

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