Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Barry Root

With his first book for children, former National Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser tells the story of a plastic grocery bag, the "color of the skin of a yellow onion," as it blows out of a landfill and into the lives of several townsfolk. Bag in the Wind is beautifully and somberly illustrated by Barry Root, subject of a great interview over at Just One More Book. About Bag in the Wind, Kooser says, “My wife Kathleen and I are dedicated recyclers, but plastic bags present a challenge. Lately, I’ve found that thrift shops like them, so I’ve been taking them there. But foryears I had bags of plastic bags that nobody wanted. Writers and artists make use of things that others may not value, so I thought I’d turn my bags into a story, and here it is.”

Kooser follows the bag which, despite being "perfectly good," has been thrown away, as it is borne along on a winter wind. Whether it is plastered to a chain link fence with other trash or snagged in a leafless tree, the empty bag does not seem without purpose. After being pecked at by a red-winged blackbird, the bag meets up with a girl walking along the road side collecting aluminum cans.

Once the bag comes into contact with humans, it is used for one thing after another, ultimately returning to the girl, unbeknownst to her, when she spends the money she earned collecting cans to buy a second hand baseball glove and ball. Her new purchases go home with her in the perfectly good bag the color of the skin of a yellow onion.

I love how Bag in the Wind works on so many levels. To the youngest listeners, this is an adventure story. Slightly older readers will delight in the circular nature of this tale. All listeners, from the youngest to the oldest, will be able to grasp the concept of reuse and recycling that flows subtly through the story. There is even an "note about recycling plastic bags" at the end of the book that details the damage and dangers plastic bags pose, reasons why it can take anywhere from 15 to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose and ideas and resources for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle the 100 BILLION Americans use PER YEAR.

For those of you interested in Ted Kooser's poetry for adults, here are two sort of kid-friendly poems that I think are great.

Daddy Longlegs

Here, on fine long legs springy as steel,
a life rides, sealed in a small brown pill
that skims along over the basement floor
wrapped up in a simple obsession.
Eight legs reach out like the master ribs
of a web in which some thought is caught
dead center in its own small world,
a thought so far from the touch of things
that we can only guess at it. If mine,
it would be the secret dream
of walking alone across the floor of my life
with an easy grace, and with love enough
to live on at the center of myself.

Selecting A Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

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