Saffron Icecream

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Author(s): Rashin

Illustrator(s): Rashin

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Book

Year: 2018

Topics: Immigrant, Iran

Description: 

A joyous celebration of a girl’s first family outing in a new country

“With her colorful, exuberant folk-art illustrations and upbeat, friendly tone, Rashin makes a daunting cross-cultural leap seem as easy as a summer breeze.” — New York Times Book 

Rashin is excited about her first visit to the beach in her family’s new home. On the way there, she remembers what beach trips were like in Iran, the beautiful Caspian Sea, the Persian music, and most of all, the saffron ice cream she shared with her best friend, Azadeh. But there are wonderful things in this new place as well — a subway train, exciting music… and maybe even a new friend!

Brief Synopsis: 

So the story starts off ok with Rashin and her family going to a beach in Brooklyn. Where the girl talks about how she used to live in Iran and go to the Caspian Sea. They would make halim in the morning, and then drive 5 hours listening to persion music. Sometimes she would go with her friend Azadeh and share a kebab. Then she compares that memory to the subway train they are taking to Coney Island. 

Then the story starts with the beach rules in Iran where the women are on one side and the men are on the other. On the women’s side everyone is female including the ice cream seller. This is the first page where you see the “Islamic beach guards” (aka scary abaya women who are angry for no reason). Note that no other woman is wearing an abaya, nor angry. Then the “chaotic but fun event” is about when three boys poke holes in the dividing curtain, and all the women freak out screaming “boys boys boys!”. The three boys fell down and the women just started covering themselves with “towels, newspapers and umbrellas”. The angry beach guards came to fix the holes. 

Then the ice cream in the title comes in. where rashin misses her friend and they used to have saffron ice cream together. She couldn’t find saffron ice cream on Coney Island but the chocolate crunch was good too, and she also meets a new friend.  

The story ends with Rashin asking her new friend about the rules of the Coney Island beach. Turns out the only rules at this beach is that stay where the life guards can see you and have fun fun fun! (and in the illustration you randomly see the angry lifeguards again at the NY beach)

Why I like it: 

  • It introduces kids to the halim, and the Caspian sea in Iran.

Things that could be improved: 

  • The three Islamic beach guards were the only women in the abaya and were depicted angry in every illustration. I have issues with them depicted angry in every illustration and the unnecessary use of the word “Islamic”. They could just have been the “Iranian beach guards” or simply “the beach guards”.
  • Plus if we go into even further details of the boys peeping to the other side scene. That’s a whole issue of lack of respect for privacy
  • Then making fun at the women jumping to cover up with towels, newspapers, umbrellas or whatever they could find. It really belittles women who choose to wear hijab by making it into a comical scene.
  • The beach illustration in NY shows depiction of the hijab police to show they are there to ruin the “fun”. The entire story has negativity attached to “Islamic practices”. 
  • The “rules of the beach” are unbalanced. One beach is portrayed to have lots of beach rules and the other beach has just two- one of them being “have fun fun fun”.

Additional Activities: 

  • Talk to your kids about the differences in Iran and the US. Have them actually look into the amazing Persian culture from the internet or any other better source.
  • If you come from a different country from which you are currently in, talk to your kids about the various differences in the countries, and the beaches there. 
  • Try making homemade saffron ice cream with the kids

Pinterest Board: click here

Overall: 

“What is up with the angry hijabis in abayas”. Seriously, that is the only take away message I got.

From various reviews I read (before I knew about instagram reviews!) I was under the impression that it’s a fun story about a girl who compares the US to Iran. I was expecting architectural differences, a comparison of a bazaar vs mall, ehtnic clothes, etc. Instead the author compares a day at the beach at the Caspian Sea to her first trip to the beach in New York. 

My Iranian friends laugh it off as “it really is like that!” and “that’s how the beach guards are”. They find the story nostalgic and just a fun story to be taken light heartedly. So if the story was only for them, I wouldn’t be this critical. But for everyone else not aware of the Iranian culture it comes off as super offensive because it portrays the only women in abaya as aggressive and negative.

The author has chosen to “poke fun” at the lifeguards, and shown them as extreme. However, she has also used the word “Islamic” to describe them exclusively (vs everyone else on the beach who are probably Muslim as well), and illustrated them wearing black abayas with black hijab. I believe these images get registered into the kids memory and when they see a random woman walking in a black abaya they will be scared of her. (They may not even necessarily know/remember why). This is how islamophobia spreads – through passive suggestions or “whimsical illustrations”. The story can be summarized as a comparison of an “oppressive” beach vs a really fun NY beach without using these exact words.

Overall it is a VERY disappointing story and I do NOT recommend this book AT ALL. I believe the author wasted such an amazing opportunity to introduce readers to the rich culture of Iran.

Other reviews: 

Islamic School Librarian

Rashin Art

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