Miranda Paul: Telling stories and inspiring children
Miranda Paul never dared to dream the dreams that felt so out of reach, but she discovered with hard work and determination anything is possible. The Green Bay native is now a published children’s author. Her first book, “One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia,” will be on bookstore shelves in February. She has five more books coming out over the next three years.
While outsiders believe Paul has become an overnight success, the 33-year-old knows the road to getting her first children’s hardcover book published was long. She can finally shout her accomplishments from the rooftops, although the humble and kind-hearted Paul quietly celebrates her accomplishments. And, in the case of “One Plastic Bag,” she is honored to share the women’s innovative story with the world.
“My stories just come to me or they are inspired by things that I see. When I came up with the idea of “One Plastic Bag,” I was moved by the ingenuity in the developing world,” adds Paul.
In January 2010, Paul made a firm New Year’s resolution to get back into writing. She has always been a writer—with stacks of novel-filled notebooks dating as far back as 25 years as her proof—but she now had a renewed determination. The English major began freelancing, but she had her heart set on writing children’s picture books.
After committing to become a children’s author, Paul received discouraging news. A few months after Paul made her resolution, the New York Times published an article declaring picture books were dead—parents weren’t buying the hard-covered beauties anymore.
“I also didn’t realize publishers get tens of thousands of submissions. Your book goes into what’s called a ‘slush pile.’ You don’t know if your book will even be read,” says Paul.
She pushed on. After receiving about a dozen rejection letters, Paul had a breakthrough. An editor and agent both expressed interest in the book the same week and a deal slowly came together.
“It’s a little scary writing a story about the smallest country in Africa and about a person no one has heard of, but that’s what I wanted to do,” adds Paul.
Fast forward just over two years and Paul is preparing for the release of “One Plastic Bag.” The book launch will require a whirlwind trip out east—New York, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Baltimore—a few stops throughout the Midwest and likely a visit to the west coast.
When asked how she will measure the success of her first hardcover book, Paul explains she’s already reached her goal. She has her eyes focused on the long term.
“I don’t have goals or expectations for this. I feel like I’ve already accomplished my goal because I brought this story to the world,’ adds Paul. “Honestly, my idea of success is if I can write books for the rest of my life.”
There is a cliché that suggests, “Write what you know.” Fortunately for Paul, she has a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from.
Paul has traveled all over the world. She was the first person in her family, including extended family, to get a passport.
“I’ve always been very driven. If something strikes me, I’m going to explore it,” says Paul. “I have always had a strong desire to see other parts of the world.”
She went to college in Maryland and joined the school’s rowing team, which traveled to different cities along the coast. It was at a competition in Philadelphia that she met her husband, Baptiste, a charming man from St. Lucia.
Paul taught in Gambia, West Africa, and has gone back on several occasions for various projects. The experience moved her and has served as the inspiration for several books. Her second book, “Water is Water,” recognizes the importance of this natural resource that so many take for granted.
Her husband’s upbringing was the inspiration behind one of Paul’s fun books, “10 Little Ninjas” that will come out in August 2016.
While she still loves to see the world, Paul and her husband decided to settle in Green Bay. She says,“It’s a great place to raise a family.”
Paul was a teacher in Green Bay schools for several years but found it hard to balance raising her two children, daughter, Soleil, and son, Amani, and spending time in her classroom. The Pauls started a business from their home—A Better Footprint featured fair trade and green items. A flood of customer requests resulted in opening a storefront but family time suffered. They closed A Better Footprint in 2010.
“I remembered my time living in Gambia and how hard people worked. Their stories weren’t being told here so part of A Better Footprint was telling those stories by bringing the things they made and pieces of their culture here. That’s always been important to me,” says Paul.
She then relied on freelance work to help pay the bills. Paul explains she would write in the little cracks of time she found throughout the day. She would even wake up at 4 a.m. to write a few hours before her family woke up. Now with her 8-year-old and 5-year-old in school all day she makes the most of the six-hour block they are away, writing in her underground lair.
“I was disciplined to wake up early in the morning—I had to because that was my life and I made writing a priority,” adds Paul. “Part of why I love what I do is it gives me flexibility and the ability to be a better mom.”
Her own desire to be a successful writer inspired Paul to create a resource for others. She founded RateYourStory.org, a site for aspiring writers to share their work and receive feedback before sending it out to publishers.
“People don’t realize that for every four books I write, one of them will be published. That’s all right with me,” says Paul. “While you would think the hardest part is getting an agent or a publisher, and yes, that’s challenging, but the hardest part is to keep writing and to keep writing better and better books.”
Paul is always advocating for something. If you see her around town, she is likely wearing a pin to promote what she’s most passionate about.
She explains the population in Gambia is about 1.8 million and 40 percent of them can’t read or write. Determined to make an impact, Paul is part of Books for Africa, an organization that collects, sorts, ships and distributes books to students of all ages in Africa. Her mission is to get one million books to Gambia. Several years ago, Paul walked Gambia from border to border promoting literacy. She helped establish 31 mini school libraries in three weeks.
“When I was a teacher in Gambia I had 51 students and we had 11 textbooks that were in shabby condition. Our library had about two shelves of books, but people couldn’t check them out because they were so precious,” adds Paul. “I believe the ability to read and write is incredibly important. Education is power.” She also serves as executive vice president of outreach for We Need Diverse Books™.
“The No. 1 growing population is America is interracial children—that’s my family,” adds Paul. “It’s very difficult to find a picture book that looks like our family. It doesn’t have to be everywhere, but we need a few.” As a children’s author, she is able to give kids both a mirror and a window with the books she writes. And Paul likes to keep the focus on others.
“I don’t want to shine a spotlight on myself, I want to shine it on awesome people in the world or amazing things like the element of water, or shine the light on kids because it’s their time to develop and to form who they are,” says Paul. “If my work can shine the spotlight on someone else, give someone else confidence or make them laugh, then that’s me. That’s what I want.”