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Children’s book highlights African, American cultural identities

Author Shannon Gibney’s new book, Sam and the African and American Food Fight, is a story about a young boy navigating two cultural identities and finding unity in them over food. Her 13-year-old son, who is both African American and Liberian, is the inspiration behind the book’s main character, Sam.

“I wanted him to see a representation of a kid like him. I wasn't finding that in any of the books that we were reading at the time.”

Gibney says it’s the most lighthearted book she’s ever written, and it reflects her family’s own experiences. She says her son has had to navigate different cultural norms, particularly around food.

“Food is such a cultural touchstone and centering thing in families and in households.

Food is like a huge issue in everyone's life. But for kids, it's super big, you know. It communicates culture, it communicates values, it communicates, you know, belonging, or not belonging, in sometimes very subtle ways. And sometimes very, like, you know, big ways.”

Gibney, who identifies as a mixed-race, transracial adoptee, prides herself in telling stories about people that exist in cultural and social “in-betweens.” She says growing up, her identity was rarely talked about. And she didn’t want that to be the case for her children.

“There are many families like these. And that being ‘mixed’ is not just about being mixed racially. There's many culturally mixed families as well in the African diaspora. They have their stories, and they're just as valid as anyone else's.”

“Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight” features illustrations by

award-winning painter Charly Palmer.

Gibney is hosting the book’s launch party on April 18th from 4-6pm at the North Hennepin Community College’s grand hall. The event will offer samples of West African and African American food, and Gibney’s son will read the book.

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