“Remember always that you have both the physical and emotional strength to accomplish everything.”
Miranda Paul, letter to self, Museum Lake, BWCA
August 9, 1998 , Day 8 of 15
Greetings VOBS Friends,
Acclaimed author and change-maker, Miranda Paul, is a proud VOBS alum (she still has her solo letter!). Like many of you, Miranda discovered belonging, strength and purpose on an Outward Bound course when she was in high school.
Miranda’s story, like most Outward Bound alumni stories, is an inspiration. We want to tell you about Miranda, because, like you, she leads with compassion to create positive change in the world. Miranda joined our Director of Partnership, Marlais Brand, for a lively conversation about Miranda’s Outward Bound experience and her life’s purpose. Enjoy!
From her home base in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Miranda writes best-selling books that change lives through challenge and discovery.
Her ground-breaking debut, One Plastic Bag, inspired a generation of children around the world to make positive change for the earth. In this book, Miranda tells the story of Isatou Ceesay and “The Recycling Women of Gambia.” One woman, Isatou, finds a way to recycle the plastic bags that litter her village’s roads, clog the waterways and kill livestock. This true story caught the imagination of kids around the world and continues to catalyze young change-makers.
“That one story connected with kids everywhere. I’m so glad I went to Gambia and met Isatou! I’ve received thousands of letters and emails from kids around the world–I get them every week–telling me how they boycotted plastic bags or plastic straws, how they got legislation or local laws passed because Isatou and One Plastic Bag showed them the way. And I wouldn’t have written the book if I hadn’t gone Outward Bound.”
“When I went on course, I discovered that I have potential. I’m strong. And I discovered more than a love for nature. I learned that people can take real steps to take care of the earth. I discovered purpose.”
Miranda has written more than 15 award-winning books about the environment and social justice, and she’s got three more on the way. This year, her book, Speak Up, was chosen by the National Education Association (NEA) as a Read Across America Book, and, Little Libraries, Big Heroes was chosen by the Library of Congress to represent Wisconsin for the Great Reads From Great Places award. These books will be read in public schools across the country, and reach children from all different backgrounds and experiences.
“I love working with and writing about and for young people across the country, and around the world. My travels, and my collaborations with fellow authors and illustrators, have introduced me to so many perspectives and experiences. My family is mixed-race, and so is the world! I’m so lucky to know, meet and work with so many different people. It’s a huge gift to live in a diverse world. It’s inspired me to support other people when I can.”
Miranda is co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, an organization committed to mentoring and supporting emerging authors from diverse backgrounds, and getting their unique voices into print.
“I’m white and I grew up without much money in rural Wisconsin. My parents were teenagers when they had me. My mom had three kids by the time she was twenty-one. I found Outward Bound, and I thought, ‘This is for me,’ but then I saw the price tag, and I thought, ‘No way. Not going to happen.’ But I got a scholarship, and then I saved for the rest. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.”
“Without that scholarship, I wouldn’t have gone Outward Bound. Outward Bound set me on the path.”
Miranda was a first generation college student.
“I think Outward Bound showed me what was possible. After Outward Bound, I knew what I was capable of. I started getting involved in environmental groups and thinking about college. And–maybe because of that canoe expedition–I went to school for aquatic biology!”
Miranda graduated with a degree in English.
“I love biology, but I ended up an English major. I recognized that I had a real connection with writing and literature, and then I discovered that I could write and show people how amazing the natural world is. It’s the best of both worlds!”
One of Miranda’s books, Water Is Water, is about the water cycle, and the family in the story happens to be mixed race, just like her own family. Miranda and collaborators like her husband, Baptiste Paul, and illustrator, Jason Chin, showcase families of color in their books, mirroring their own experience, and that of others.
“My husband and I collaborated on a book called, Adventures to School. It’s about all the different ways kids around the world get to school. We love sharing different environments around the earth, and different ways people live around the world. Kids see all the possibilities for being human and discover that diversity in nature, and in life, is a strength, and a joy. Like Outward Bound, we learn best from each other and it’s valuable that we’re all so different.”
Diversity is not the only value Miranda shares with Outward Bound. She also sees the need for compassion, now more than ever.
“When I started writing about the environment, I began to realize that taking care of the earth goes hand-in-hand with compassion. When we take care of the earth, we are really taking care of each other. This next generation of leaders must take care of the earth, and one another.”
Miranda’s belief in the potential of the next generation informs one of her latest books. Speak Up! is about young kids learning to make a difference in their own lives, and the lives of others, by using their voices and speaking up.
“At Outward Bound, you share experience and perspectives. You learn to listen and to share your ideas. You include everyone. Over time, I’ve realized that biographies and nonfiction books can make possibility real for kids. Kids see what others have done, and what they can be. Like Outward Bound, books about real people accomplishing amazing things show kids their potential and include them in the future.”
Ah-ha! Another Outward Bound value: inclusion.
“I want to bring kids together. I want to empower and inspire them, just like I was empowered and inspired by Outward Bound, and the amazing mentors and role models in my life. The best thing in the world is when kids share their victories with me. I go visit a school, and they just can’t wait to tell me what they’ve done. That energy, enthusiasm–that hope–it’s amazing! Kids have a growth mindset! I love seeing that lightbulb go on when they find their purpose.”
Please join Miranda and help a young person find purpose.
Now more than ever, the next generation needs you.
Help someone like Miranda go Outward Bound.
Change their life, and you will change the world.
Thanks to Miranda for sharing her wonderful story with us. When Miranda is not writing, reading with children, or hiking with her kids, she can be found sailing her Hobie Cat on Lake Michigan; she credits VOBS for making her a sweetwater sailor.
Please visit Miranda’s website to learn about her exciting work.