Cake and Icing

In her appearance on an agent’s panel at the recent SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, Deborah Warren said, “Cherish your gift and relish the gifts you give to children. When publishing comes it’s icing on the cake, but the cake is good nonetheless.” What an apropos metaphor!
    It set me to appreciating the metaphor in my own life. For almost three years, Jacob Ezra Katz’s journey to become Ezra Jack Keats has been the focus of my writing life. It’s been cake! It all started with a conversation with Ellen Ruffin, curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, and Deborah Pope, director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. They set me on an assignment to find treasures in the Keats archives for the 50th anniversary edition of The Snowy Day, winner of the Caldecott Award and the first full color picture book to feature a black child as the protagonist in a non-stereotypical way. A short deadline left me no time to linger among the two large boxes of correspondence files and the 170 + archival boxes of Keats memorabilia. However, I saw a biography begging to be written and knew I would return.
    Deadline finished, I came back to read each letter, see each painting, and take in each of Keats’s own anecdotes. Special Collections librarians managing the desk in the Reading Room kept me supplied with the next box and feigned interest in my end-of-the-day accounts of new things I’d learned. Come to think of it, the interest may not have been feigned. They mostly match me nerd for nerd.
    Months later with information stored in my computer, the sorting and writing began. Like setting out ingredients and measuring utensils on the counter, I put the stories in chronological order and began to write. The cake began to take shape. The smell from the oven has included the writing of the story, phone calls with questions from people who now consider me a Keats expert, friendships with “Keats people,” and a trip to New York for the opening of the Ezra Jack Keats exhibit at the Jewish Museum. I’ve loved every whiff of the aroma, and I do cherish the gift.
    All the same, I’d like the icing of the book in my hand with "Virginia McGee Butler" running down its spine!