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New children’s book celebrates the comforting power of sweet potato pie

Twin Cities community icon Rose McGee is known best as the founder of the non-profit Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, an organization committed to advancing racial justice and equity that incorporates the power of cultural foods as an act of resistance. But McGee says she was a writer long before she began spreading the comfort of pie. Now her two loves have merged in her debut children’s book “Can't Nobody Make A Sweet Potato Pie Like Our Mama!”

McGee says the murder of Michael Brown in 2014 compelled her to travel to Ferguson, Missouri, where she mimicked her elders, gifting sweet potato pies as a manifestation of both gratitude and condolence. She says as she passed out pies in that heavy and tragic moment, she realized the power of her families’ cultural traditions.

“People found some comfort as I offered them a pie.” Says McGee. “The more I got into community in various ways, the more I grew into understanding how sacred the sweet potato pie is in Black culture. When I wrote the book, I was writing it from that story. I wanted to pay homage to that. And I wanted to do it in a way that would show some generational relationship.”

A Black woman sitting in an upholstered chair
Author Rose McGee (Photo by CBJ reporter Jasmine McBride)

The journey to publishing the book came with its challenges. McGee says she originally wrote it as a chapter book, which was rejected. She says she was encouraged to convert the story into a children’s picture book, which led her to sit on the content for a few years – until she reconsidered and gave it a shot. After a few revisions, the book was accepted by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

“After that fifth edit, I got, ‘Congratulations, your book has been accepted.’ And that was a great feeling. I dedicated the book to my grandmother and my great grandmother, and my granddaughters.”

The book was illustrated by local artist Christopheraaron Deanes. McGee says Deanes was a great addition, using his art to convey that the storyline was deeper than just pie.

“We always say with the organization, Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, ‘we're more than just a pretty pie,’” said McGee. “The illustrations by Christopher Aaron Dean - they're very powerful illustrations. So often in children's books they're beautifully illustrated, but they may not have depth in the context of the illustrators who created them. But Christopheraaron uses rice in his paints, which gives them an even deeper texture. I applaud him for his creativity.”

This is Deanes' first children’s book illustration.

McGee says she is excited by the changing landscape of the children’s book genre. She says diverse representation is a positive thing, particularly when the books are written by the same people the stories portray.

Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul is hosting a reading of “Can't Nobody Make A Sweet Potato Pie Like Our Mama!” on Saturday, November 4 at 10:30am. Both McGee and Deanes will be there.


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