One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole (Scholastic, 2020) is a unique wordless picture book that shows the journey of a paper bag, beginning as a tree in a forest and throughout years of reuse. First a tree trunk is cut down, processed, and made into paper, and then a family uses it in a story of generational connection. In each part of the process, what will become the paper bag is colored brown, while every other part of the illustrations are black and white line art, making this process of consciously reusing the bag the center point of the illustrated story.
The rest of the story is quite unrealistic as the bag is reused for two generations, from father to son and then to the next son. It spends time as a lunch bag, a treasure bag for a young child, a bag to carry other items, a bag hiding an engagement ring, the bag for a picnic, a bag for the next generation’s child to collect shells, and so on. Each time another person comes into the story, the bag gets a small red heart drawn on it. In the end, it holds photographs of the grandfather, father, and son, all of whom have love this bag, and then it is used as a plant container for a baby tree being planted in the back yard.
I don’t think anyone who reads this book would actually believe they could keep one paper bag in existence for fifty years. Somehow, despite this completely unrealistic aspect of the story, it is a wonderful wordless read. It shows how reusing items can carry memories. It shows that preserving a bit of our childhood can give unique connections with the next generation. Finally, it reminds us that we should reuse and eventually recycle into the earth the things that the earth produced.