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Ice cream and existentialism

naoshi_ice cream workThere are so many things to say about Naoshi‘s picture book Ice Cream Work (Overcup Press, October 2015), but for the sake of orientation, I’ll begin with a brief synopsis. This, according to the jacket copy, is “an utterly delicious story of a humble ice cream cone trying to find meaningful work.” And so it is. Ice Cream Man begins the day by choosing one of many hats to wear — will he be Yogurt? Double Strawberry? Chocolate Chip? What will the day bring? In his thigh-high blue boots, tight yellow cone romper, and blue polka-dotted tie, Ice Cream Man does not have time for your sexism and square standards of male beauty. He is “CHEERFULLY OFF TO WORK.” He is the picture of professionalism.

Ice Cream Man arrives at work in his ice-cream-cone car, and because it is Monday, it’s time to work as dessert in a diner — and engage in casual racism. Am I reading too much into this scene, or is it a little weird that the brown coffee beans, in their dumpy dresses and jumpsuits, are really having to strain themselves getting the creamer in the coffee and the yellow lemons are struggling to pull the tea bag out of the yellow tea one of their own is soaking in, while the white sugar cubes simply stand around doing absolutely nothing, all dressed up with nowhere to go? Odd. Meanwhile, Ice Cream Man has taken off his red glasses and neatly folded them by the side of his chocolate cake work station. He is one with the chocolate cake now, and will be “until finished eating.” For this, he will be paid 50 cream/hour.

ice cream work monday

“QUALIFICATIONS: None PAYMENT: 50 cream/hour”

The rest of the week proves increasingly more meaningful, if only because of the slowly rising wages. On Tuesday, Ice Cream Man enjoys being a Party Popper because he is valued for his “Jumping ability” (100 cream/hour).

ice cream work tuesday

On Wednesday, he has a sedentary day as a Road Cone and doesn’t even sneak a glance at the sexy egg ladies tanning themselves next to him (150 cream/hour). On Thursday, he is part of a Sunflower, his “Team spirit” hopefully unflagging, as the team must stay until the flower withers (350 cream/hour). On Friday, he hauls in the big bucks: 20,000 cream/hour as a golf ball. This is deeply courageous of him and various woodland creatures acknowledge his bravery and salute him (except for a stone-faced monkey).

For his troubles, I’ve calculated that Ice Cream Man made about 87,950 creams this week (assuming that each job is a minimum of an hour, road work in any world takes all day, sunflowers stay perky during the daylight hours, and the golf game lasts about four hours). This doesn’t seem all that bad, but then who knows what a cream is really worth in the Ice Cream economy? Ice Cream Man gets a nice weekend off to shop and hang out with friends, but then it’s back to work. Even an Ice Cream must work to survive in the world. The sky is gray and gumdrops are falling from the sky. Ice Cream Man is again the picture of professionalism, but his heart just isn’t in it anymore.

Naoshi’s story, illustrated with an unusual colored sand technique called sunae, is a tale of hard work and professional triumph, contrasted with the dangers of society’s grinding expectations.

A seek-and-find activity and illustrated “How to Make Sunae” section are appended.

About Willa Zhang

Willa Zhang is an editorial intern at the Horn Book, Inc.

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